While most of us try to hunker down somewhere warm during the winter, the Ernie Miller Nature Center in Olathe is inviting people to get familiar with the freezing outdoors.
The 116-acre park at 909 N. Highway 7 remains open for quiet hikes and events ranging from bird-watching for adults to animal folk tales for kids.
Senior park naturalist Molly Postelwait is leading the center’s “Green at Heart” programming throughout the winter and spring with a goal of reconnecting people and nature.
“There is a lot of emerging research about why nature is healthy for us,” Postelwait said. “The ‘Green at Heart’ is intended to look at something like creativity and how being in nature helps us to be more creative.”
She said the research conducted at the University of Kansas helped her design the program for parents and educators to encourage children to spend more time in nature.
“The activity of being in nature kind of reboots our brains and we need this time to just reset ourselves,” Postelwait said. “We want to tap into this. We want parents and caregivers to realize the value of it instead of just staying indoors and to schedule time outdoors because it is good for your well-being.”
That thinking guides many of the events at the Ernie Miller Nature Center. Postelwait recently led a winter solstice event where visitors learned about traditions surrounding the solstice before going out into the night air to roast marshmallows over a bonfire.
“I really try to encourage people to get away from the hustle and bustle and all of the lights to just take a little nature break,” Postelwait said.
The Ernie Miller Nature Center celebrates nature’s beauty found in each season, but outdoor education manager Bill McGowan said winter is an especially good time to experience the Johnson County landscape.
Visitors can hike different trails through the park. McGowan said the longest is a mile and three quarters while other trails are only a third of a mile long and paved with asphalt to be stroller-friendly. The center maintains natural un-paved trails as well for more rustic winter hikes.
“You can see a lot more in the winter as far as the landscape goes, and you don’t have the chiggers and ticks to bother you while you are out walking,” McGowan said.
While out hiking, McGowan recommends keeping an eye out for Kansas mammals such as squirrels, rabbits, deer and even the occasional opossum.
“Winter is a real good time of year to see animal signs, tracks and deer rubbings,” McGowan said. “Bird nests are much easier to see in the winter because aren’t leaves to camouflage them.”
For those looking for a way to learn about nature from while staying warm, the center includes exhibits about birds of prey and a 500-gallon fish tank. On Sunday afternoons, the center offers 45-minute programs as part of the Sunday Family Series.
The series begins Jan. 6 with “Mother Nature,” a program designed to introduce children to nature and animals and teach them about what they can do to help wildlife through stories about animals from around the world.
Other themes include: “Being Bold in the Cold,” a program about how to stay safe in cold weather; “Monster Quest,” about the history behind folk tales surrounding legendary creatures; and “What Scat is That?” where naturalists will teach kids how to identify animals in the park by their droppings.
For adults the center will offer “Coffee with the Birds,” a morning coffee break for visitors to relax while watching birds flick and fly about the park. The program begins Jan. 8 at 9 a.m. and is offered every Tuesday through the end of February.
The Ernie Miller Nature Center is open Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.