BY COLLETTE CAPRARA / FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

As waves of warmer air periodically waft through the area, an expectation of the coming spring is coupled with an almost nostalgic appreciation for the unique treasures of nature in the waning winter.

This month,  Belmont and Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation are pleased to share those treasures in an array of family activities, ranging from hikes to crafts and exploration sessions.

BE ONE WITH NATURE

Nature education specialist Linda Bailey describes the wonders of the annual Winter Tree Trek at the Motts Run recreation area:  “In a hardwood forest with the leaves off the trees in the winter, there is a radically different feel. The woods in winter present a beautiful palette of shapes and structures.”

This Sunday, master naturalist Harry Puffenberger will  introduce families to that wonderland of nature as he guides the hike along one of the park’s many trails. Along the way, he’ll  show how  to identify trees by studying their bark. He will reveal how a bud’s scars on trees’ twigs register the year-by-year growth of a tree, point out evidence of wildlife from the clues they leave on and around trees, and sitecq as a verb here the nests of squirrels and birds that are hidden in the leafier seasons.

“There is so much going on in the woods. It won’t be long until the sap will start rising and the buds will begin to burst,” said Bailey. “It’s the quiet before the cacophony of spring!”

Nature education assistant Mimi Dempsey will further explore the secrets of nature with children at Motts Run with her winter and spring sessions of the Home-school Nature club, held monthly from February through May.

This month’s workshop will begin with a fascinating exploration of owl pellets, revealing the birds’ diet and the unique qualities that enable them to hunt their prey.

Subsequent sessions will introduce participants to an amazing spectrum of color and sizes of bird eggs, dip-netting for treasures at the lakeshore and the basics of camping.

Dempsey has also designed a special program for 4- to 6-year-olds, “Seed Secrets,” where they will discover the fascinating potential of a seed and its development. Participants will also plant a seed that they can take home to nurture and grow.

SHOW YOUR ARTISTIC SIDE

Children and their parents can continue their exploration of the winter wonders of nature at the Belmont estate, which will offer a creative “Preschool Palette” program and a “Woodland Hike.”

The Preschool Palette is a monthly program offered for children ages 2 to 5,  and includes a story time with a featured picture book as well as a visit to galleries, a garden walk and a craft session that will carry out the story’s theme.

February’s activities will center on Kate Messner’s “Over and Under the Snow.” The children’s book  presents a fascinating look at the woodland creatures—from bears to hares and bullfrogs—that burrow beneath the snow’s surface for a cozy winter retreat. They’ll be looking for warm and cool colors in the galleries’ paintings, and then try their hand at creating their own winter landscape.

“Not all 2-year-olds have the ability to express their emotions verbally, but they can do that through art,” said education manager Michelle Crow–Dolby who designs and conducts the sessions. Preschool Picassos will be working with artist-quality watercolor paper and paints and exploring techniques of masking and pigment dispersion to create a scene of white birches and snow that is sure to awe their parents and grandparents.

TAKE A HIKE

Families will also have an opportunity to explore the real-world winter landscape in the “Woodland Hike” throughout the estate’s property. Visitors will wend along a Belmont trail, through grasslands and down to the river shore with a guide, who will highlight both natural features and historic sites along the way, including remnants of an old canal that once powered mills in Falmouth, the wall of an ice pond of yesteryear and the pipes that once conducted water to a pump house.

“Families can walk along the streams and river in the quiet of the woods, just minutes from Fredericksburg’s downtown streets,” said Skip Smith, one of the master naturalists who conducts the hikes.

“The Woodland Hike is a wonderful, gentle way to introduce children to hiking and there’s always something new to discover,” said Belmont’s site preservation manager, Beate Jensen. “It’s so important for children to have an experience in nature in a real dimension, not just the virtual reality of today’s technology. Families can step back, turn down the volume and just listen to nature.”

MOTTS RUN NATURE CENTER

6600 River Road, Fredericksburg.  540/372-1086; fredericksburgva.gov. (preregistration required)

Winter Tree Trek, Sunday, Feb. 17, 3–4 p.m. Ages 6– adult. $4.

Homeschool Nature Club, Mondays, Feb. 18, March 18, April 15 and May 20.  1–2:30 p.m. Grades 1–5 (adults must accompany children under 10). $30 for all four sessions.

Seed Secrets, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 9:30-10:30 a.m. Ages 4-6. $6.

GARI MELCHERS HOME AND STUDIO AT BELMONT

224 Washington St., Falmouth. 540/ 654-1015; GariMelchers@umw.edu.

Preschool Palette: Over and Under the Snow, Feb. 21–22 and 26. 10–11 a.m. Ages 2–5. $8 per child; $5 members.

Woodland Hike, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2 p.m. Participants should wear study footwear. Free.

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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