By Andrea Joslin, Outdoor Education Manager
Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center is a great way to escape the daily grind and get reconnected to nature. Surrounded by retail shops, homes, a busy road, and ball fields, the park is a little nature oasis in the suburbs. When you walk down into the valley of the park, you escape into a wild area and forget for a while that you are still in the city. There is a little something for everyone to do here. With the new ADA improvements, the park is more accessible than ever. Best of all, the park and nature center are free and open to the public.
When visiting, don’t forget to stop in the nature center building and peek at our animals that are on exhibit as well as other educational displays to learn more about the park. The nature center is home to raptors, snakes, turtles, frogs, and fish. You might get to see one of our owls sleeping on its perch or look into the eyes of our new red-tailed hawk who will cock his head to one side and look back at you inquisitively. The raptors at the nature center are rescued wildlife that cannot be released into the wild. While we do not take injured or orphaned animals for rehabilitation, we do serve as a home for non-releasable wildlife who need a forever home. These animals serve as ambassadors to help people understand their species and their important role in nature.
There are many nature trails to explore in the 126-acre park. Both paved and unpaved trails are available to passively explore so visitors can choose a short walk or a longer adventure. Dogs and bikes are not allowed in the park, so hikers can enjoy a peaceful nature experience and hopefully see some wildlife. If you are lucky you might get to see our resident families of deer or hear a wild owl calling. The longest trail in the park is the Old South Trail which provides an opportunity for those who want a longer hike at about 1 ¾ mile. The shortest trail is our paved Bittersweet Trail at only ¾ of a mile. Or visitors can certainly hike all our trails at once and get about 3 miles in. While exploring the park visitors can see a variety of habitats including tallgrass prairie, forest, and creek.
For those who want an enhanced experience or an opportunity to learn more, Ernie Miller Nature Center offers a wide range of interpretive programs for all ages. For preschoolers we offer an Animal Tales Storytime, Nature Time Yoga, Lil’ Critters Kids Day Out, and outreach programs at preschools and daycares. For older kids we provide award winning field trips, outreach programs in the schools, as well as programs for scouts and other groups. Our summer camps for preschool through middle school give children a longer opportunity to explore nature but be sure to sign-up early as our camps are full months in advance. Adults can enjoy rain barrel classes, worm bin classes, and birding opportunities. Families and individuals enjoy our many special events and programs that go with the seasons like Haunted Kansas, Winter Solstice, Owl Prowls, Full Moon Hikes, Family Night Hikes, Birthday Parties, and more. Be sure to sign-up early for our Enchanted Fairytale Forest this spring on May 7.
Don’t delay, the forest and prairie at Ernie Miller Park are here waiting for you to explore! Visit www.erniemiller.com for more information about the park, nature center, and the fun programs that we offer. You won’t be disappointed as there is always exciting things happening and opportunities to get reconnected to nature.