A nature center may not be the first place you think of going to in the winter. However, all of our region's nature centers are actually open year-round and a winter visit offers sights and activities not always available the rest of the year.
There are indoor programs, as well as outdoor activities, including nature hikes, bird watching, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, so there's plenty to keep you busy, no matter what the weather. With a dozen nature centers within a two-hour drive of Buffalo, you don't have to go far to discover nature in winter.
Beaver Meadows, in North Java, about an hour drive from Buffalo, is a 324-acre sanctuary with seven miles of marked trails, along with nature exhibits and a discovery room inside its visitor's center. The trails can be used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Family walks are offered on Sundays.
Upcoming events include Winter Fun Day on Feb. 3, which will feature cross-country ski lessons, snowshoe walks, crafts, winter survival workshops and more. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children. The Maple Harvest Festival, March 17-18, includes a pancake breakfast, hikes, maple sugaring demonstrations and crafts.
The Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, better known as the "Alabama Swamp" because it is in the town of Alabama, straddles Genesee and Orleans counties. The 11,000-acre site is the largest wildlife refuge in the state. It is a habitat for migratory birds, including 10 species of ducks, as well as fox and deer. Three nature trails can be used for cross-country skiing.
In Chautauqua County, the Jamestown Audubon Nature Center is a former farm that has 600 acres of fields, woods and wetlands. There are five miles of hiking trails. The visitor's center has hands-on exhibits as well as more than 200 mounted birds, some of which are extinct. The center offers programs throughout the winter, including art club, photo club and yoga.
Its most popular winter event is the annual Snowflake Festival, which is held on Super Bowl Sunday, this year from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 4. There will be plenty of activities, snow or not. Inside the nature center will be arts and crafts, as well as nature-related displays. You can even build your own birdhouse for a small donation. Naturalist Paul Fehringer, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, will speak about birds of prey. Outdoors, if mother nature cooperates, there will be snow shoes available for your use and the cross-country trails will also be open (bring your own skis). Take an old-fashioned sleigh ride for $2.
The nearby Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, also in Jamestown, is a 27-acre nature center named after Roger Tory Peterson, a Jamestown native considered one of the greatest naturalists of the 20th century. Peterson brought nature to everyone with his paintings, photographs and writing.
In Cattaraugus County, the Pfeiffer Nature Center, a 200-acre site in the town of Portville near Olean, has six miles of nature trails. About 20 acres of the center are made up of old growth forest, some trees dating back 400 years. A log cabin on the property, constructed from American Chestnut, is listed on the State and National Historic Registers.
Upcoming events include a cross-country and snowshoe clinic and skills class at 11 a.m. on Jan. 28, with instruction and rentals by Allegany Outdoors. There is also a Full Moon Winter Snowshoe Hike planned for 7 p.m. Feb. 2, where you can discover nature and wildlife by moonlight. You must preregister for these events.
The Finger Lakes Region also has several nature centers including the 900-acre Cummings Nature Center in Naples, run by the Rochester Museum and Science Center. During the winter months, there are 15 miles of cross-country ski trails, as well as two walking/snowshoe trails. (Rental ski and snowshoe equipment are available.) The visitors center has a multimedia theater, hands-on exhibits and nature art.
Upcoming events include a Moonlight Ski at 5:45 p.m. Feb. 10. The Genesee Valley Nordic Ski Patrol will lead this tour; afterward, enjoy a buffet dinner of chili, sandwiches and other finger foods. The cost is $10 a person.
Genesee County Nature Center, a 175-acre sanctuary located adjacent to Genesee Country Village in Mumford, has weekly nature-themed presentations at 2 p.m. Sundays. It has five miles of trails that you can walk, hike, cross-country ski or snow shoe, depending on the weather. Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available; call for trail conditions.
Tinker Nature Park and Hansen Nature Center, in Henrietta near Rochester, is a 68-acre handicapped accessible park. It has a 1.2-mile walking trail, along with a half-mile nature trail. Snowshoe and cross-country ski rentals are available for a nominal fee. Upcoming events include a lunar ski/walk from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 3 and a workshop on making suet bird feeders from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 10.
Also in the Rochester area, Mendon Ponds Park and Nature Center in Honeoye Falls, is the largest park in the Monroe County Park System. The park has 20 miles of multiuse trails and two sledding hills. The adjacent 550-acre recently renovated and reopened nature center has seven miles of trails. The nature center features a birds of prey building, which houses injured birds that can't be returned to the wild.
Tanglewood Nature Center in Elmira has 10 miles of trails through a former evergreen plantation. The museum features nature displays and hands-on specimens. Upcoming events include the Hibernation Celebration on Groundhog Day, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 2, when the resident groundhog, "Buddy," will come out to see if he sees his shadow.
In the Corning area, the 250-acre Spencer Crest Nature Center has seven miles of hiking trails, two ponds and a museum with changing exhibits.
Although Letchworth State Park is not called a nature center, it offers a variety of nature-related winter programs, both indoors and out, including nature ski hikes, nature walks and indoor nature lectures.
If you go
Beaver Meadows Nature Center, 1610 Welch Road, North Java. Info: (585) 457-3228; www.buffaloaudubon.org. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Cummings Nature Center, 6472 Gulick Road, Naples. Info: (585) 374-6160; www.rmsc.org. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Genesee Country Nature Center, 1410 Flint Hill Road, Mumford. Info: (585) 538-6822; www.gcv.org). Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, 1101 Casey Road, Basom. Info: (585) 948-5445; http://iroquoisnwr.fws.gov. Hours: 7:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, year-round. Trails open sunrise to sunset.
Jamestown Audubon Nature Center, 600 River Road, Jamestown. Info: (716) 569-2345; www.jamestownaudubon.org. Grounds open dawn to dusk; building is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays and closed Tuesday through Friday through February.
Letchworth State Park, 1 Letchworth State Park, Castile. Info: (585) 493-3600).
Mendon Ponds Park and Nature Center, 3914 Clover St., Honeoye Falls. Info: (585) 256-4950; www.monroecounty.gov. Winter hours (until March 31) are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Pfeiffer Nature Center, 1974 Lillibridge Road, Portville. Info: 933-0187; www.pfeiffernaturecetner.org. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, 311 Curtis St., Jamestown. Info: 665-2473; www.rtpi.org. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Spencer Crest Nature Center, 2424 Spencer Hill Road, Corning. Info: (607) 962-9012; www.spencercrest.org. Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Tanglewood Nature Center, 443 Coleman Ave., Elmira. Info: (607) 732-6060; www.tanglewoodnaturecenter.com. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Tinker Nature Park & Hansen Nature Center, 1525 Calkins Road, Henrietta. Info: (585) 359-7044. Park is open dawn to dusk; nature center is open 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.