Whenever I am schlepping my kids back and forth to Pelican Park for sporting events, I pass by Northlake Nature Center. I’ve always been a bit curious about this hidden gem of woods and wetlands that stretches along Highway 190. I checked out their website to see the different event offerings and I finally made time for an on site inspection.
I met a friend there and, between the two of us, towed four kids along (ages 4, 2, 2, and three months). We doused ourselves with mosquito repellent, grabbed a couple of strollers and picked the trail on the map (available on their website as well as at the front of the NNC) that was marked with the most “scenic spots.” It’s a 1.25 mile hike called the South Loop. After quickly realizing that the terrain was not ideal for our strollers, we switched to the 0.75 mile Eagle trail.
Despite that you can still hear the cars racing down 190, NNC does provide a lovely experience of nature. The kids enjoyed checking out the fallen trees, burgeoning mushrooms, wild berries, and sprawling spider webs. If they had been just a bit older, they probably would have enjoyed the “Kids in the Wild” sheet that can be printed from the NNC website under the “Children’s Activities” tab. It helps them pick out different types of trees and leaves, and encourages them to actively engage with their surroundings.
We quickly discovered that NNC was perhaps not the ideal spot for very small children. We came to a bridge over some swamp-like water, where the railing was too tall to protect the kids from falling into the water. So we held onto them with the “mama bear death grip” as we crossed. Also, the large tree roots and narrow pathways were not working with the strollers. Several times I had to lift the stroller with my baby in it just to get through some of the tougher spots. We kept on going knowing that this was not a long path and the weather and scenery were pleasant. Plus the kids seemed to be enjoying the walk and gave us high hopes for substantial afternoon naps.
We followed the “Eagle trail” signs at each fork in the woods, but .75 miles started to feel like 7.5 miles. The kids were getting tired, but I was impressed at the lack of complaints. I knew we had to be close to the end so we just kept going. We finally reached a paved road, then the Pelican Park fields. We walked through an open grassland that seemed to lead nowhere. That’s when I finally had to call on my inner Girl Scout (okay so I actually never made it to Girl Scouts having been booted out of Brownies in 2nd grade for my refusal to attend the meetings). But I picked up enough of a wilderness awareness before my untimely excommunication to know it was time to use some wilderness survival tools. So I pulled out my iPhone and called the NNC asking for directions to the main entrance. The lady on the phone was very nice but in trying to follow her directions, we dead ended at some large pond or massive puddle in the middle of the grasslands.
At this point, my infant began screaming because her sister had been tickling her face with a long reed (unbeknownst to me of course–I was on my nature girl iPhone trying to interpret the NNC trail map). My two year old was all hiked out and ready to be carried. My friend and I were feeling like contestants on “Survivor” rather than a couple of suburban moms on a nature hike.
Suddenly, and to our great relief, we saw two men jogging on the path towards us. Although it did cross our minds that they could be serial killers, I flagged them down with my friendliest wave and “Yoo hoo!” (the official greeting call of any southern mama). Fortunately, they were actually off duty policemen and they graciously helped us find an overgrown path through the very tall grasslands, and back to the entrance of NNC.
A few take-always from our two hour trek:
- All of the trails at NNC are very scenic – I feel qualified to say that because I really think we saw all of them.
- The NNC is a lovely place for dog walkers, bird watchers, any type of scouting group, disobedient teens who need a lesson in survival, and kids over five. It is not ideal for infants or strollers.
- The land was once Huey P. Long’s golf course and clubhouse (the clubhouse is a brick building near the entrance), which he purchased with state money. That is why it is now owned by the state. We picked up this fascinating historical fact from one of the policemen who rescued us.
My friend who accompanied me said that her days of researching articles with me were over, and that she is in charge of planning our next play date.
Editor’s Note: I have attended the Story Walks at the Nature Center that only use the elevated boardwalks–those are fine for strollers or wheelchairs. The next one is coming up on November 20th.