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The Anita Purves Nature Center has been closed to the public since March 14 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the nature center is preparing to reopen for free private visits beginning Nov. 7.

Historically, the nature center has focused exhibits and programming around up-close and hands-on opportunities to explore local nature and wildlife, but the pandemic is forcing staff to find new ways to personalize visitor experiences.

Virtual programs are taking place on Zoom and Facebook Live, while in-person programming is restricted to small groups following social-distancing guidelines.

Inside the Field Station, the nature center’s main exhibit hall, staff have been working to refresh exhibits and update procedures in order to apply best safety practices against COVID-19.

Upcoming exhibits will include investigations of leaves, feathers and animal skulls, as well as a new “Take a Walk” digital interactive exhibit that will inform visitors through activities, games and videos about the district’s natural areas and their management.

Starting Nov. 7,

the nature center will be offering exclusive visits for household groups of up to eight people.

These timed visits will be 45 minutes

long and start on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Visitors will have

|access to the Field Station, the windowed Wildlife Observation Room and the Nature Store, which reopened in February with all-new inventory.

During each timed visit, a naturalist will act as a personal guide to give visitors the inside scoop and answer questions.

Naturalist guides

will even offer each group a personal introduction to one of the center’s education animals, which include screech owls, box turtles, snakes and a toad.

Visitors and staff will be expected to wear face-masks, answer health screening questions and disinfect their hands upon entry.

Nature center staff will clean visitor areas and exhibits between each timed visit.

To reserve a visit for your household group of up to eight people, call the nature center between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 217-384-4062.

Online booking is expected to be available soon.

As always, visits to the Anita Purves Nature Center are free.

Outside the nature center, the Friendship Grove Nature Playscape and Busey Woods are open to the public.

Visitors are expected to follow social-distancing guidelines.

The Anita Purves Nature Center is a facility of the Urbana Park District.

Find the nature center at 1505 N. Broadway Ave., U, at the north end of Crystal Lake Park.

For the most up-to-date information on programs and hours, find the Anita Purves Nature Center and the Urbana Park District on social media and online at urbanaparks.org.

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