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What: Beaver Meadow Nature Center

Where: 1610 Welch Road, North Java

When: Visitor Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Trails are always open.

How to get there: Take Route 400 to East Aurora, turn left at the exit and go 10 miles on Route 20A to the blinking light at Route 77. Turn right on Route 77. The center is 7.5 miles south, a left turn onto Welch Road.

Admission: A donation of $2 per person, $5 per family is requested. For information, call 457-3228.

Break in those new hiking boots, or give the old pair a gentle workout, at Beaver Meadow Nature Center. With seven miles of trails, through forests, around ponds and passing a beaver lodge, the center can guarantee a full afternoon of natural exposure.

The changing seasons open new vistas for hikers who, all the green summer long, couldn't see much of the forest for the leaves. That's a good time to check out the flora. Now, as a paint box of autumn colors splashes to the ground, the winter birds and small mammals are more easily spotted.

Start at the Visitor Center, a quarter-mile up Welch Road from Route 77. Inside there are trail maps (available for 10 cents) and pamphlets outlining detailed tours of the center. A small gift shop specializes in field guides, bird feeders and nature crafts, and is a fine place to start holiday shopping.

Also on the main level are tanks containing live newts, turtles, snakes and toads, and small exhibits of preserved wildlife. The children's discovery area is downstairs, next to an indoor bird feeder overlook. Here children can pet genuine pelts from beaver and raccoon, and hold a deer skull. Dozens of bins contain other natural wonders to investigate. This is the place to do it: The Buffalo Audubon Society, which owns and manages Beaver Meadow, asks that visitors don't gather souvenirs from the trails.

Pets aren't allowed, either, and neither is smoking. There aren't uniformed nature police on patrol -- good behavior is expected on the honor system. It makes sense: Quiet, attentive people see more than noisy, reckless people. That's why it's called a nature center, not a park.

Beaver Meadow doesn't receive public funding. Instead, it offers frequent programs for families, youth groups and naturalists, and encourages Audubon membership. Now until November, the fall hiking season will peak. On Nov. 9 and 10, the center will host a Foul Weather Open House, during regular Visitor Center hours, with guided walks, presentations at the center, a special program on backyard birds in winter, and cocoa and cider by a cheery fireplace.

As always, visitors are advised to bring field glasses and to dress for the weather, whatever it may be.

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