Sweetbriar Nature Center
|The Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown is home to a large rehabilitation aviary, public gardens, a natural history museum, working farm and a vivarium.|
The entrance to the Sweetbriar Nature Center off of Eckernkamp Drive is well-marked and leads you down a scenic road that ends at the museum. Parking is off to the left, beyond a private home that is on the grounds. The parking lot is unpaved and not especially large. If you're traveling with a stroller, navigating Sweetbriar can be a little tough. The trails are all unpaved, and the logs that mark the parking spaces have to be worked around. There are many picnic tables in the area to stop for a snack but be sure to bring your own food -- there is none available for sale at the park.
The rehabilitation aviary is home to a number of large birds, including two bald eagles. The cages here are extraordinary in that they are small and let you get a very closeup look at these birds. If you've never seen one this close, you'll be amazed at how large they are.
The vivarium is the main attraction at Sweetbriar, and it's worth the price of admission. For just $3.00, you get to walk in to a large area that is teeming with butterflies of all colors and sizes. Strollers are not permitted in the butterfly house.
The vivarium is filled with plants and flowers that the butterflies are attracted to. There is also a cage where the pupae are in the chrysalis stage. Helpful signs near the entrance identify the many types of butterflies that you'll find here. Strollers are not allowed in the butterfly house, but there is a place to park them just outside.
One more gratuitous butterfly picture...
There is a large duck pond in the aviary that kids find irresistible. Be aware, however, that the pond extends beyond the fence and poses a risk to clean shoes. In this area you'll also find turtles, owls and hawks.
Inside the nature center itself, there are a series of rooms to explore. You'll find many terrariums with reptiles and insects of a surprisingly exotic variety (African hissing cockroaches!). The wood paneled displays of animal skeletons are reminiscent of a nineteenth century explorer's study. While there is no explicit prohibition of strollers in the center, you'd be much better off parking it outside. Up a narrow flight of stairs, you'll find the rain forest room (above). There is a suggested donation of $1.00 per person to go up into the second floor. Once inside, there are a number of educational displays about the everyday products that come from the world's rainforests. There is also a large and atmospheric room to explore. Carrying a small child back down the stairs can be a bit precarious, so use caution. The center's public restroom is located in this area, but it wasn't in very good shape when we visited.
A gravel trail leads away from the center and down to the farm. The Chipmunk Trail is also found down this path. The approach to the wooded area is made of loose gravel, some of which is very rough going with a stroller. Combined with the steep entrance to the chipmunk trail, this is best explored with older kids. The farm itself didn't have too many animals during our visit, so a trip down this way is strictly optional.
The drive in and out of Sweetbriar takes you past this small playground on Landing Avenue. It's a nice place to stop for a picnic and features a vintage merry-go-round.
The Sweetbriar Nature Center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. The center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the vivarium from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It's a very nice spot for a picnic and the butterfly house is a unique feature well worth visiting.
The Sweetbriar Nature Center
Official Site: http://www.sweetbriarnc.org/
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