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After closing on March 14, 2020, in response to COVID-19, the Anita Purves Nature Center finally reopened for private visits at the end of January.

The nature center is now offering free visits for individuals and groups of up to eight people.

Hourlong timeslots begin at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. You can reserve your exclusive visit by calling the nature center at (217) 384-4062 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., at least two days in advance of your preferred visit date.

The nature center’s main exhibit hall, the Field Station, has been overhauled with new interpretive displays, safe interactive items and a cleaning protocol which is followed before and after each private visit.

Everyone is required to wear masks inside the nature center, sanitize their hands, and maintain safe social distancing. Staff and visitors alike undergo basic health screenings and temperature checks upon arrival to the center.

Many exhibits are new or have been updated since the nature center was last open to the public, but the basic themes explored at the nature center haven’t changed.

Exhibits focus on local nature, wildlife, plants and geology. The center also still houses education wildlife: Eastern screech owls, box turtles, three species of snakes and a toad.

During each private visit, a naturalist guide is present to show you around, answer any questions, and even take one of the animals outside of their enclosure for you to see!

Visitors are free to explore the Field Station, the windowed Wildlife Observation Room and the gift shop — which celebrated a grand reopening with all new inventory in February 2020.

Staff are excited about the release of a brand new digital interactive exhibit called “Talk A Walk,” which features photos, games, video and audio to share information about the Urbana Park District’s natural areas and their management. This and other exhibits are already available in Spanish, and more exhibit translations are coming soon!

Other new exhibits also offer experiential and interactive components. Measure your height against the roots of the big bluestem (the state grass of Illinois).

Become a “Tooth Sleuth” as you explore how different types of animal teeth are suited for different types of foods; then “Make a Meal” for these mammals.

Examine animal X-rays and preserved specimens using the light table, Wentzscope and Flex-cam.

Do you know about the awesome and bizarre mimicry of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly — a common species in Busey Woods — which fools potential predators in different ways throughout its life cycle? If you don’t, you will definitely be amused to learn!

When you schedule your visit, consider taking some extra time to explore the trails and features at nearby Friendship Grove Nature Playscape, Busey Woods and Crystal Lake Park — which is currently undergoing an impressive renovation.

Each of these outdoor locations is open to the public daily from sunrise until sunset. All visitors are asked to social distance and wear masks whenever others are present.

You belong here, and we look forward to your visit! Call us at 217-384-4062.

Savannah Donovan is the Environmental Public Program Coordinator for the Urbana Park District. Email her at sydonovan@urbanaparks.org.

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