South Shore Nature Center
|The South Shore Nature Center in East Islip is the home of a small museum where kids can get a closeup look at some native Long Island wildlife, as well as an extensive complex of walking trails.|
The South Shore Nature Center is tucked away on a large preserve right along the Great South Bay. When approaching along Bayview Avenue, keep an eye out for the unassuming entrance on your right. It's a small dirt road that leads up to the parking area (so small, in fact, that it looked like two cars would have some trouble passing each other). Once inside, there is a large gravel parking lot. Parking spaces are unmarked, but there is plenty of room. The museum exhibits can be found in a large blue house that has been tailored to showcase various species that are found throughout Long Island.
The room with the live animal exhibits features a number of terrariums and aquariums with turtles, reptiles, hermit crabs and fish. A second large room doubles as a classroom and has a large touch table where kids can hold turtle shells, deer skulls and some rather large fungi. There is also a honeybee hive with windows, so kids can watch the busy bees do their thing.
The live animal selection is limited inside the museum, but there is an extensive collection of stuffed birds, animals and fish. Each display is built around a theme, like waterfowl or predators. It may not be as exciting as a zoo, but kids will enjoy getting a closeup look at some of the animals that prefer to hide when you try to see them in a live exhibit.
On the grounds just outside the nature center, you'll find a recreation of a Native American wigwam. Kids will get a kick out of exploring this ancient homestead (be sure to point out the lack of video games). It is, however, pretty dark inside so younger children who aren't too sure about the dark may want to skip the wigwam. Adjacent to this area are a number of bee hives that the honeybees from inside also visit. They have little interest in human visitors, so don't worry about stings. There are a couple of outdoor pens in this area as well, but there were no other animals present during our visit.
The South Shore Nature Center is located right next to a freshwater pond. This pond is a hotbed of activity, with turtles, frogs and ducks all making a home there. There is a scenic spot where you can sit and watch (and listen to!) all the hubub. The entrance to the trails can be found on the southern edge of the pond.
The unique ecology at the South Shore Nature Center is a result of the freshwater pond and its proximity to the saltwater estuaries of the Great South Bay. Three main trails take visitors around the fresh and saltwater habitats as well as a woodland area away from the water. The trails through the water are on raised decks, making them easy to walk with a stroller. The wooded area is on dirt, but it's fairly hard-packed and easy to push through. They do go on for quite a while, so kids who are prone to complaining about a long walk may want to skip the trails. But for kids who enjoy discovery and a little adventure, it's an ideal place to take to the woods. Keep in mind that mosquitoes can be a big problem in a marshy area like this. During our visit, the museum had convieniently put out some bug spray, but it's always best to be prepared on your own.
If the prospect of seeing some wild animals gets your kids excited, wait until they see the deer at the South Shore Nature Center. They are everywhere. When you're driving in towards the parking lot you'll see them in the woods (so drive slow) and they're ubiquitous around the center itself. Most of them are leery of humans, but one or two of the older ones got pretty close to us when we were visiting the wigwam. Feeding them at the center is strictly prohibited.
If you do bring some snacks with you or decide to have some lunch here, there are picnic tables near the parking lot. There is a large butterfly garden there as well, so it's a pleasant place to sit for a while. Just be prepared to shoo away the wildlife that will have some designs on your ham sandwich.
The South Shore Nature Center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily from April through October. In the colder months, the center is not open on weekends, just Monday through Friday. Admission to the park is free.
The South Shore Nature CenterOfficial Site: none
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