Youngsters taking part in the Vernal Pool Alive program at Weis Ecology Center get so excited at the sight of creatures lurking beneath the surface that they wade into water above their rubber boots.
"This is a popular family event that fills up quickly," sanctuary director Phaedra Demers says. "We get frogs and salamanders in the pool and in April we see eggs and tadpoles. Last year we saw lots of water insects, such as diving beetles and a water scorpion."
The Vernal Pool Alive program is just one of the many family-friendly events offered at the sanctuary April 1 through Oct. 31. The Weis Ecology Center, a private non-profit organization, is part of the New Jersey Audubon Society, which strives to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic among New Jersey citizens. The Weis center offers an opportunity to learn about the Northern New Jersey Highlands region.
The Weis' Butterfly Garden and Model Backyard Habitat attracts birds, butterflies and caterpillars. The Nature Center is home to live snakes and turtles and hosts seasonal photography exhibits. In the Nature Store, visitors can shop for children's gifts, field guides and books, and bird feeders and accessories. The center's bird feeding station is a popular attraction and can be viewed from an observation deck.
Complementary trail maps at the Visitors Center highlight the more than 24 miles of trails that depart from Weis' private grounds to explore Norvin Green State Forest and the surrounding highlands. Families with strollers and toddlers in tow can explore nature in a large open field near the Visitors Center or stroll to the waterfall at the entrance to the trails.
"Most of our trails would be considered moderate," Demers says, "and there are a lot of rocks, so good footwear is necessary when hiking here."
If You Go
Weis Ecology Center is located at 150 Snake Den Road, Ringwood. The Visitors Center is open April 1 through Oct. 31. The parking area and trails are open daily year round. For more information, call (973) 835-2160 or visit njaudubon.org.
• All-Natural Egg Dyeing: Classes are 10 and 11:30 a.m., Friday, April 6. $5 members; $8 non-members.
• Camouflaged Egg Hunt: 2 p.m. Saturday, April 7. Children ages 3 through 10 hunt in the fields and forests of Weis for naturally dyed eggs in camouflaged colors. $5 per child. Bring your own basket. Pre-registration required.
• Nature Discovery Time: Hikes for Preschoolers: 10 to 11 a.m., April 19 and May 17.$5 per child; adults are free.
• Vernal Pools Alive! For Families: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 21 and Friday, April 27. Wear sturdy clothes and rubber boots if you have them. $5 members; $8 non-members.