Exploring Bear Branch Nature Center in January

In mid-January, I had an urge to do some walking. Having missed the Audubon Sanctuary walk in Mt. Airy, I talked my son into going to Hashawha and Bear Branch Nature Center. Located off Rt. 97 at 300 John Owings Road, Hashawha (means “old fields”) lands were purchased in 1972 while Bear Branch Nature Center opened in 1993 with many exhibits and classes for children. On 320 acres, there are 5 miles of trails.

Although I’ve been in the building, I’d never walked the trails. We arrived earlier than the center opened, so without a map we just wandered around not really knowing or caring where our feet would lead us. We started on the one paved trail and cut over to the grassed trails when the opportunities arose.

The weather was conducive to being outdoors,although the ground was squinchy–water got in my clogs at times. Walking in January allows a clear view into the distance and into woodlands unobstructed by leafy growth. We enjoyed watching birds kicking around in fallen leaves looking for food, the silhouettes of various tree species and how dormant plants revealed all the animal tunnels and holes normally hidden from sight.

I was testing my tolerance for walking with a knee brace after months of inactivity, so we did not intend to take the longer trails. We stopped last at the bird sanctuary which housed hawks, owls, a falcon, an eagle and a vulture in a pleasant, shaded structure and returned by a paved road (oops-restricted).

The trails are open 365 days of the year at no cost. We plan to return and do the longer trails later.

Here are a selection of photos from January 16th–before our first substantial snow of the season.