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Mill Mountain is great in winter
On the cold, clear days of winter, there’s plenty for curious kids to explore at Mill Mountain’s star, zoo, trails and Discovery Center.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Robert Quarles of Roanoke watches his three-year-old daughter Seanna as she slips down the slide in the Mill Mountain Play Area Wednesday evening.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Seanna Quarles, 3, of Roanoke, climbs on the rocks in the Mill Mountain Play Area Wednesday evening.
Nature Programs at Mill Mountain Discovery Center
Register for all events by calling 853-1236 or go online to www.roanokeva.gov/playonline, where you also can find more events.
The Discovery Center is open noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Beginning April 1 through November, the center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
(Ages 4 and up)
Identify different maples, tap the trees, collect the sap and enjoy a maple syrup snack.
When: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday
Cost: $6 (the classes are full, but you can call to get on a waiting list)
(Ages 4 and up)
Meet the reptiles and watch a snake eat! And maybe poop!
When: 6 p.m., Feb. 22
Cost: $6 (register by Feb. 18)
(Ages 8 and up)
Learn geology basics and become an investigative rock hound during the scavenger hunt.
When: 10 a.m., Feb. 23
Cost: $6 (spots are still open)
Full Moon Meander
(Ages 7 and up)
A moonlight walk includes lessons about nocturnal animals’ activities and the moon’s impact on the Earth’s ecology.
When: 6:30-8 p.m., Feb. 25
Cost: $6 (register by Feb. 21)
Monday, February 11, 2013
Frigid winds howled. A storm system bearing enough rain to flood rivers and submerge bridges approached. Snow still blanketed the top of Roanoke’s Mill Mountain, which was Kimberly Arbouw’s destination.
“My 3-year-old made me drive up here to see the [Mill Mountain] Star in the freezing cold,” she said.
She recalled that frozen scene 10 days later, on one of those warm-for-February afternoons atop that same mountain, as her three children frolicked on the fake rocks and green slide that represent a playground .
Mill Mountain calls to people, even in winter.
That stump of a mountain, which sits upon Roanoke like a crown encrusted with a neon star, is sublime year-round, but especially on the cold, clear days of winter.
This time of year, Mill Mountain’s overlooks afford 30-mile views of a horizon unmolested by summer haze and foliage. People can hike its 10 miles of trails without breaking a sweat. The animals at Mill Mountain Zoo are aroused by winter’s invigorating chill.
And the kids love the place.
Arbouw hung out at a picnic table with her friend Sherry Blythe, whose son played with Arbouw’s three kids after everyone had a picnic lunch. The children had just attended a science class for home-schooled kids at the Mill Mountain Discovery Center .
“What a way to have school,” Arbouw said. “Science then a picnic.”
Her three children, daughter Eva, 7, and sons Arie, 5, and Thijs, 3, (Arbouw was quick to point out that her children’s names are inspired by her husband’s Dutch heritage) and Blythe’s son Jared, 6, tangled with plastic swords and glided down the sliding board, the only traditional piece of playground equipment on site.
But even the slide has its quirks. Kids have to climb a rock wall to get to the top rather than walk up steps.
“You’ve got to use your imagination here,” Blythe said, and she meant that in a good way.
“They’re really playing. They don’t just play on playground equipment.”
Discovery Center a gem
I have made several trips to the top of the mountain in the past couple of weeks, including a trip to the Discovery Center for the fifth anniversary of the outdoor club Kids In The Valley, Adventuring — better known as KIVA.
I took my daughter and a few of her friends to the only birthday party they had ever attended where snakes were a main attraction. To top it off, we actually watched a black snake poop.
Even this poor country boy had never seen that before.
The Mill Mountain Discovery Center is open year-round, although its hours are reduced in winter. Because the center is located near the parking lot for Mill Mountain Zoo, many people assume the lodge-like building is part of the zoo. It is not.
The Discovery Center is managed by Roanoke Parks and Recreation and draws about 5,000 people per month in the summer, but only about 1,000 people per month in the winter.
Many more people should take advantage of the Discovery Center this time of year. The center offers weekend activities and has butterfly nets, backpacks, field guides and other outdoorsy stuff that families can borrow for outdoor exploring on the mountain. Mill Mountain Park supervisor Christine Elder and chief naturalist Grace Terry lead classes and can help guide families around the center and the park.
“There is plenty to do here, even on the cold days,” Elder said minutes after returning from a lunchtime hike.
An all-season mountain
The KIVA birthday bash was just such a cold day. Did the kids care? Absolutely not.
After running around the Discovery Center, listening to KIVA leader Chip Donahue read the book “Stone Soup” and gorging on cupcakes, the girls from my street poured outside and played in the snow.
Mittens-less kids in unzipped coats high-tailed it for the Star, where they threw snowballs, slipped on frozen hillsides and ran like escaped monkeys. They were cold, but didn’t mind.
In a city blessed with more than 60 parks, which include tiny neighborhood playgrounds, ball fields and riverfront trails, Mill Mountain is our Central Park. It draws people from every neighborhood, regardless of class, culture or age. Whether you walk, run, bike or drive to the top, the mountain always improves the body and the spirit.
Mill Mountain never goes out of season. See you at the Star.
Ralph Berrier Jr.’s column runs every
other Monday in Extra.
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