Where: 21907 Claiborne Pkwy., Ashburn, VA
When: Monday-Friday, 9 am- 5 pm, three Saturdays a month 10 am- 2 pm
Like any other witch, I lose my mojo when it rains. I become unmoored; what are we supposed to do NOW? I find going to the mall and playing on the mall playground categorically unacceptable, which means on rainy days I’m left scrambling for a good indoor activity. That’s how I ended up one drizzly afternoon earlier this summer at an HOA office in Ashburn and discovered one of my best rainy day spots. I keep this one in my back pocket for days when the weather just isn’t on our side, and I’m going to share it with you even though you’re undoubtedly thinking “There is no way this girl is fixing to send me to some HOA office in Ashburn with my kids.” Oh but I AM.
I fully agree with you that when I’m thinking of fun places to take my kids, the HOA office does not top the list. But that’s because my HOA office is boring and yours probably is as well. The Broadlands HOA office is a different animal completely. Inside the Broadlands HOA office is a small town gem- the Broadlands Nature Center.
I have known about Broadlands Nature Center for years yet never went until this summer because I didn’t think it would be particularly entertaining for my kids, and also because I assumed it was only open and accessible to Broadlands residents. Both of these beliefs were untrue; this nature center is so much more than it appears to be and the kind residents of Broadlands not only pay their HOA fees and volunteer to maintain it but graciously allow the rest of us to visit as well.
I took my girls here for the first time this summer and figured we would kill 15-20 minutes. We stayed for nearly two hours. I can’t explain what we find so special about this cozy little nature center- it’s small and inviting, the burbling bathtub turtle tanks act as soothing white noise, and there’s stuff to do in every single corner of the room. It welcomes you in and makes you want to stay awhile.
Broadlands Nature Center is run by volunteers and the first time we went, the elementary-aged son of the head volunteer was there to fulfill his afternoon duties. If I knew this kid’s name I would be compelled to write someone a letter to tell them what a great job they’ve done with him. He was just a neat kid- so patient and kind with my daughters and the other kids who were there that afternoon, so informative about the animals he was caring for. When it was time to feed Zoe, the resident rabbit, he very sweetly asked my girls if they wanted to stock her hay basket. He took me to the dove cage and showed me where one dove had been sitting on two eggs! He told me we were just in time to see Ziggy the corn snake be fed his weekly frozen mouse, and then informed me in a conspiratorial tone that one boy who was there came every week to see this.
In addition to Zoe the rabbit and Ziggy the corn snake, there’s two different species of turtle, a fish tank, and a wall of reptile cages with various small lizards and salamanders. Our most recent visit revealed a new citizen of the nature center- Kelso, the bearded dragon:
Cut into one wall is a hidden playroom for children, made to look like it’s carved out of the inside of a tree, filled to the brim with books and stuffed animals to play with. It’s like a tiny clubhouse hideaway where kids can just be small in a small space. They sit in there and from outside the room you hear the sounds of their voices making up storylines for the animals, or reading books. It is the sweetest little place, and I guess now that I think about it, this is why children seem to love the nature center: it doesn’t overwhelm. It doesn’t overstimulate. There is just enough there for them to be constantly engaged, but it’s a comfortable engagement, where they don’t feel a panic that they won’t squeeze it all in, or they’ll miss something crucial and exciting. They enter the nature center and run back and forth between animals and play room and back to the animals, absorbing it, taking it all in, and thoroughly enjoying the immersion in a small environment that just… allows them to be small.
The love and dedication of the nature center volunteers is evident in every inch of this space. Local children are just as involved in the upkeep and care of the nature center as adults- I have seen young children, the kind who most likely would leave their clothes all over their room in their own home, lovingly sweep up rabbit pellets and refill the box with clean litter, chatting happily while doing so. I have seen them toss handfuls of lettuce into the turtle tubs, then ask “What’s next on the list?” This little nature center is a labor of love, and it shows. I think that’s probably another reason why it is so inviting and pleasant. It is abundantly cared for.
Right inside the small bridge that you cross to enter the nature center is a Little Free Library; if you’ve got a few books lying around that no one reads anymore, consider bringing them to stock the library and possibly trade for other books left inside.
I tend to bring my kids to Broadlands Nature Center on rainy days, but it would be just as pleasant on a sunny day. There’s a covered porch out back with Adirondack chairs and right across the parking area is a small tot lot for children to play on.
In addition to the everyday operations of the nature center, the volunteers also lead special nature programs. I signed myself and my oldest up for a Snape’s Potions Class recently (we unfortunately had to miss because she woke up with a stomach bug- I mean, I tried not to let her know I was bummed but I was bummed) but they’ve also recently held programs about edible flowers and wild animal rehabilitation. If you’re interested in nature programs run through the center, bookmark their community events page. The classes are inexpensive and, if anything like the center itself, surely well done. And just look at this sense of humor:
I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.
If you aren’t from Ashburn but I’ve successfully enticed you into taking your kids to Ashburn to visit what I really hope you’ll tell them is an HOA office and nothing more, just to mess with them, here’s some more ideas for how you can fill your day:
The W&OD Trail runs right through Old Ashburn. A parking lot is located right next to the phenomenal Carolina Brothers BBQ. You can park in the lot, hop on the W&OD and walk as long as you like, then pop into Carolina Bros on your way out for either a BBQ plate lunch or, if you just need a snack, old fashioned treats like peach Nehi and Moon Pies.
Right down the road from the W&OD jump on point is a local favorite playground known as Dinosaur Park (43465 Partlow Rd.) with four different play structures and a walking path down by a stream and into the woods. Kids LOVE this playground and it will keep them busy as long as you let them stay.
There’s so many big, historical, beautiful, exciting things to see where we live, but Broadlands Nature Center proves that sometimes, slowing down and just being small can be the best way to spend the day. I truly hope you’ll consider visiting this sweet little nature center and taking the time to… enjoy smallness.