Exploring the Outdoors at Fern Hollow Nature Center

Sewickley Valley’s Fern Hollow Nature Center (FHNC) has sparked children’s affinity for the outdoors for 27 years. Located in Sewickley Heights, the 33-acre green space offers programs for all ages, but its sweet spot is preschoolers through middle schoolers, who sometimes teach their parents what they’ve learned.

 

A woman speaks to a group of children about bird-watching, next to a red paper sign about it
An instructor at Fern Hollow Nature Center

 

In explanation, “We usually don’t kill bugs—we take them outside,” says Executive Director Sam Capezzuto. But upon learning that invasives harm the environment, one child launched a spotted lanternfly killing spree. “We’ll never get rid of it if humans don’t remove it,” he told his parents. So, the family spent a day combing the backyard for masses of flies.

A group of children on a green nature trail
Exploring the trail at Fern Hollow Nature Center

 

With eight staffers, a hands-on board, and dozens of volunteers, FHNC annually serves 10,000 visitors and offers about 150 community field trips, 135 drop-off children’s programs, 25 family and adult programs, and 30 summer camps. “We’re very small and mighty,” says Capezzuto, who over 20 years has helped grow the Center from a fledgling nonprofit to a trusted regional resource. On the horizon is funding a renovation and expansion of the center’s original headquarters, a Sears Roebuck house that once housed the caretaker for G. Whitney Snyder, who donated the property.

Activities for All Ages

FHNC is open to the public for hiking or self-guided guided trail- and tree-walks from dawn to dusk every day, but the nature center also offers structured activities, some free, some for a fee. This month, the popular half- and full-day summer camps for children ages 3 to14 get under way. Campers 3 to 5 become “Little Explorers” in the Nature Outdoor Classroom, an Arbor Day Foundation-certified play space where they help (and maybe taste a few new veggies) in the community garden or collect caterpillars to be joyfully released as butterflies.

Camps for school-aged children tap interests ranging from wildflowers, bees, minerals, and stars to dinosaurs, creepy crawlies, and archery. STEM camp is for young teens who like chemistry experiments, building rockets, and studying physics and geology. Some camps and programs are full, but openings remain, and there is a wait list. If you’re looking to the future, you are welcome to observe.

A group of children look at plants together
Kids enjoy one of Fern Hollow’s day camp programs

 

In addition to day camp, there are one-time informal activities for children: Outta This World—Space and Rockets, July 11; Nature Night Out, July 19 and August 23; and What a Hoot, August 1. Families can participate in free play dates Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Outdoor Classroom. Other family events are Birds in my Backyard, July 12; Family Camping, July 13; Nature & Nurture Hike, July 29; and S’mores and Stories, August 2.

Kids clearly “rule the summer school,” but the FHNC also offers adult programs. In July and August, opportunities include Archery with certified Instructors, July 15; Hoops and Hops, July 31, Campfire Cooking, August 12, Medicinal Herbs—Tinctures and Salves, date TBD, and a Sunset Hike at Walker Park, August 17.

 

Kids play together on a log over a river full of lily pads
Getting out on the river

A Sewickley Tradition 

Fern Hollow Nature Center receives generous support from its board, members and foundations, but the nature center’s biggest annual fundraiser is Music Fest, a family-friendly Sewickley tradition scheduled this year for Saturday, September 28, from 4 to 8 p.m. on the grounds.

Bring a blanket and enjoy live bands, a food truck, and the great outdoors. There is an admission fee. For more specific program information, to register for camps or programs or to become a member, email info@fhnc.org.

Story by Susan Flemings Morgan / Photography by Jeff Swensen

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