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The unique Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul-Mendota Heights is ideal for an unstructured ramble outside, and also offers educational programming in their beautiful farm buildings. There is a charge for the programs, but a family walk through the Dodge property costs nothing and the trails are open to the public during daylight hours seven days a week. Here's what you might find on your walk:
- A working farm - Dodge Nature Center keeps farm animals to educate and during the warmer months, it's possible to observe them in their yards. You can't access any of the barns or go beyond the fenceline without participating in a program (which we have done - and it's great!), but you can still get close to the animals.
- Wildlife - we trailed turkeys, spotted turtles from the boardwalk, and checked out the raptor exhibit.
- Ingredients for nature play - in our wandering we found hills to scale, natural bridges, and plenty of building materials. There was even a nature playground that is used daily by the onsite Dodge Nature Center Preschool, but I was assured the public is welcome to play when school's not in session (sorry, I couldn't get a picture of it, but my own preschooler would have loved it).
Moving indoors, Dodge Nature Center offers all kinds of classes, tours and events aimed at a wide span of ages. We have, for instance, taken part in their homeschool science classes, taken farm tours through St. Paul ECFE, and observed other parent-child programs.
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