Memorial Day is right around the corner and I, once again, am scrambling to figure out summer camp for the kids, before it’s too late. Like many families these days, we are so woefully over-scheduled that I can barely figure out what we’re supposed to be doing this week, let alone what two kids with different interests would like to be doing all summer.
There are all kinds of great opportunities where we live, including nature camp at the Audubon sanctuary. Both boys are of the opinion that if they don’t come home from summer camp covered in dirt, they didn’t have enough fun, and the Audubon happily supports that opinion.
There are a few sanctuaries in our area, but we are particularly partial to Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, MA. If you’ve never visited Broad Meadow Brook, you might not think it’s worth a stop, but it definitely is. The sanctuary is tucked away in a residential neighborhood, and the visitor’s center is set back from the road. While there are plenty of signs out front, the driveway is easy to overlook. The parking lot holds about a dozen cars, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvering, though there are often more spots in the side lot on non-camp days. The visitor’s center has a desk where you can purchase a membership, pick up a trail map, and buy snacks and drinks. Don’t forget to stop in the multi-purpose room to see Clem, the resident painted turtle. There are also clean restroom facilities, so you can hit the trails at your freshest.
The front of the visitor’s center features a butterfly garden, full of color and fragrance and, of course, butterflies. It’s a lovely spot to spend a few minutes, but there’s so much more to see! The back deck of the visitor’s center, for example, is surrounded by bird feeders. There are a few comfortable chairs to relax in after a hike; you can sit back, have a sip of water and watch all kinds of birds stop by for bite. If you prefer, there’s also a bird blind with plenty of viewing spaces for everyone.
The trails start behind the visitor’s center, with plenty of options for all types of explorers. A rope guided sensory trail makes nature accessible to everyone with available audio tour, Braille signs and tactile maps. The Holdredge Trail is great for younger kids; it snakes down the hill behind the visitor’s center and around the Nature Play Area. Umbrella strollers might have some trouble, but some of the more sturdy strollers usually do ok along this trail. Parents can descend at a leisurely pace while kids explore and make their own paths down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, there’s a boardwalk that extends to the left, leading to the frog pond, which is a favorite for my kids. The area around the frog pond has benches where one could sit quietly, but who wants to do that when you can lay down on a giant rock overlooking the muck? Even on the hottest days, the noises of the city melt away, and the frog pond is simply quiet, cool and green.
When you’re finally done exploring the frog pond, you can loop back around to the beginning of the Frog Pond Trail and continue along the Holdredge Trail to the stream, which is a popular spot to collect crayfish. The trail here is much less stroller-friendly, though, so this is really an activity for older kids who don’t mind walking on their own. Our family adventures usually stop about here because we spend so much time mucking about, but there are plenty more trails to explore. Kids at summer camp walk nearly every inch of the sanctuary in their time there, so I’ve always got my own trail guide with me when I bring the kids.
If you live in the Worcester area, and you’re unsure your kids would like summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook, the sanctuary also offers birthday parties that are like a mini-camp session. Rain or shine, the birthday child and their friends go into the woods with one of the Broad Meadow Brook Naturalists (who have really cool code names like Moth, Red Tail, or Blue Bird), followed by time in the multi-purpose room for cake and presents. The kids come back dirty and tired, with big smiles on their faces. How often does that happen, these days, when there are no electronics involved?
Even though I haven’t actually found time to sign up the boys for camp at Broad Meadow Brook, it’s definitely my easiest decision about summer. This will be the first year for the youngest, but I know he’ll love it just as much as the oldest does; and I know the oldest loves summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook for a few reasons – there’s the look of exhausted bliss when I pick him up and the constant singing of the camp song, but most telling is the camp picture collage that hangs on my fridge. It’s been there for nearly 2 years, and I’m still not allowed to take it down. The summer was that good.
What’s your favorite summer camp activity, now or when you were growing up?