Tag Archives: DC Family Activites

Explore the Local Environment at Buddie Ford Nature Center

Watching a skink eat a cricket

Watching a skink eat a cricket



I really enjoy hearing from you guys. And not just with feedback about my blog, positive or otherwise (luckily it’s been more of the former than the latter). I especially love when readers let me know about a place or activity in the area that we haven’t yet experienced.

That’s how I learned about Buddie Ford Nature Center. A few weeks ago when I shared The Great Indoors list on Facebook, as I do every now and then when it’s been updated, someone left a comment letting me know about the facility in Alexandria. She called it the “best nature center in the area” and also mentioned they might have to reduce hours due to lack of traffic.

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That was about all I needed to know. When something is recommended as the best, my interest is piqued. And when a great place isn’t getting the attention it deserves, I like to help out with that if I can. So, I made a point to visit with the kids over the winter break to check it out for ourselves.

As soon as we walked into Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center on an early Wednesday afternoon, I understood. The large space is filled with exhibits that catch the eye immediately, all of them showcasing the nature and wildlife of the local environment, yet we were the only visitors there. We took advantage and quickly got started exploring it all.

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While I was drawn to the many terrariums housing creatures found in the nearby woods, the kids went straight for a table topped with items to examine under a microscope and view on a large monitor. They were fascinated by close-ups of snake skin, shells, feathers, rocks and other objects collected from the outdoors nearby.

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In fact, there are interactive opportunities all around the huge room. There’s a cute area for little ones with a small activity table and plastic animals to play with. There’s a challenge to spot all the toads in a tank. A “Please Touch” table lets guests check out larger items from the outdoors up close. And there’s a nice sun room to stroll through to see all kind of plants and “chat” with Rio the sun conure.

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But one of the best things about Buddie Ford is the staff, who are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. They gave us a little meet and greet with some of the creatures, let the kids help feed the turtles, pointed out some neat things to see (like the skink mid-cricket meal), and shared interesting information about the collection on view, including neat facts about the wildlife and how they acquired some of them. They work with kids quite a bit, hosting classes and school field trips as well as offering birthday parties.

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The staff also let us know about Dora Kelley Nature Park adjacent to the Nature Center that is easily accessed right off the parking lot. So after our nature center visit, we headed over for a short hike. A paved mile-long trail winds through the woods and marshland of the 50-acre wildlife sanctuary. It’s a nice stroll, and you can keep an eye out for some of the animals and plants you just learned about. (Be sure to pick up a trail guide while you’re at the nature center to help.)

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So, I owe KFDC reader Lis a huge thank you for this one. I agree: Buddie Ford does rank among the area’s best nature centers and is absolutely worth a visit!

Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Sanctuary and Dora Kelley Nature Park are located at 5750 Sanger Avenue in Alexandria, VA. Hours are 10am – 5pm Wednesday – Saturday, and 1-5pm on Sunday. Admission is free.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, Birthday Parties, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Riverside Recreation at Bladensburg Waterfront Park

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On the recommendations of a couple of friends, our family visited Bladensburg Waterfront Park this past weekend. We didn’t know much about the park, except that it was located — as its name indicates — in Bladensburg, Md, on the Anacostia River. So, we packed some lunch and planned to picnic and do some hiking.

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I probably should have done a little more research before heading over because we realized upon our arrival that it’s not much of a hiking kind of place. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, just not what we expected. Bladensburg Waterfront Park is actually about a quarter-mile stretch of paved area along the river with a few grassy sections, a small playground, a couple of gazebos, a picnic pavilion, some opportunities to learn about the history of the area, and a dock for a pontoon and rowboats and paddling vessels.

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You can rent boats there to explore the river, and apparently you can paddle to the National Arboretum. There was a rowing event going on while we were there, and it was somewhat busy around the boating area, so we kept our visit on land. Bikes are also available for rent, and the Anacostia River Trail runs right through the park for a pretty and easy cycling route alongside the water.

They also offer pontoon boat tours to visitors both during the week and on weekends, though times are limited. From April through October, 45-minute rides start at 12pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm. Cost is $2 for PG County residents and $3 for non-residents.

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After taking a short walk across the steel bridge spanning the river, we picnicked in a gazebo, and the kids enjoyed the playground for awhile. Then we checked out the rest of the park, reading about the Battle of Bladensburg and the former dueling grounds, a 19th century army encampment, and the region’s prehistoric past within Dinosaur Alley.

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We also took a walk out on the small dock before heading over to an old train caboose that is open to climb aboard and explore. There’s also a Visitor Center with exhibits about the Battle of Bladensburg, but that was closed during our visit. Something to do next time along with some fun on the river.

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Bladensburg Waterfront Park is located at 4601 Annapolis Road in Bladensburg, Md. It’s open sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center is open 10am – 4pm. Admission is free.

Boat and bike rentals are by the day, both starting at $10. Visit the website for a complete list of rates.


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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Weekdays, Weekend

Time for a Tour of the Old Post Office Tower

The view from the tower - beautiful, even on a dreary day.

The view from the tower – lovely, even on a dreary day.


[2017 Update: The Old Post Office Pavilion Clock Tower was closed for a few years while the building was being renovated and transformed into a hotel. Tours of the tower operate independently of the hotel, and the National Park Service runs the programming of the historic site. The write-up below reflects our experience before the renovation, i.e. some things pictured are no longer there, but the tower info is still accurate.]

I can’t reiterate enough how much I love all the deal sites. And it’s not just about scoring a discount. Through them, I often learn about new places and adventures, and am motivated to try ones I just haven’t gotten to yet.

That’s exactly what inspired a recent outing with the kids to The Old Post Office Tower. And while it wasn’t a deal that sparked the trip — it’s free to tour — we do have a deal site to thank for it. Scoutmob not only helps you save on all kinds of food, wares, clothes, and more good stuff from local businesses, they also have a groovy website with a whole section of articles about places, events, and ideas — all with a local bent.

And that is where I found out about the Clock Tower tours. A couple of weeks ago, I read DC’s Most Underrated Tourist Attractions (That Tourists Don’t Go to) Part Deux on their site, and guess what was included on the list? Yep, the Old Post Office Tower. At 315 feet in height, it’s the third tallest building in Washington, DC (after the Washington Monument and Basilica at Catholic University), and I wanted to go check it out.

Checking out where we’ll be on the way there

The kids didn’t have any plans after school that day, so when I picked them up, I asked them if they wanted to see DC from really high up, and immediately got an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” So, even though it was a gray and rainy day, we made our way down to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. I pointed out the clock on the way there from several blocks away, and the kids were excited to know they’d soon be up there looking down on the city.

Go through the lower level food court to begin the tour

We parked fairly easily across the street, which was probably dumb luck at 3:45pm mid-week. Inside the building, we went through security then followed the “Tower Tour” signs around the west side of the building then downstairs. There are a food court and shops on the lower level, as well as a small area operated by the National Park Service, where tours of the tower begin.

Displays on the 10th floor

We rode up to the tower in a glass elevator that faced the open space in the middle of the building, which the kids loved, but I have to admit gave me that rubber-knee feeling. It let us out on the 10th floor where we could view displays about the history of the tower, mostly how it was saved from demolition, and the Bells of Congress, a bicentennial gift from England which are replicas of the bells in London’s Westminster Abbey.

An NPS park ranger enjoys the view from the observation deck, too

An NPS park ranger enjoys the view from the observation deck, too

From there, we took another elevator up a couple of floors to the observation deck at 270 feet. That’s where you can see 360-degree vistas of DC and surrounding areas. And it is amazing. Even on a gray, rainy day. And when you consider there’s really no other place to get that perspective of the city now that the Monument is closed, it makes the experience even better.

The Washington Monument doesn’t look taller from here.

Rooftop gardens!

We pointed out DC landmarks, tried to find our house (but couldn’t see that far), watched airplanes fly in to DCA, and looked down at all the little cars and people scurrying below. And in the center of the observation deck, encased in glass, are the inner-workings of the big ticker, so you can see its operations up close.

Tik Tock on the clock

The deck is not completely enclosed, there are plexiglass windows in some areas, but just metal slats in most. Needless to say, it was a chilly venture, so we made our way back downstairs after about 15 minutes. Another jaunt in the glass elevator followed by a treat in the food court.

A post-Tower Tour treat

This one is already on my “Go-Back” list. If the views were that cool on a dreary day, I can’t wait to see them on nice one.

The Old Post Office Clock Tower is open from 9am – 5pm daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and last entry is 4:30pm. Tours are self-guided, and admission is free. 2017 Update: The Old Post Office has been converted into a hotel, but the Clock Tower is still part of National Park Service and open to tour.

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Monuments & Memorials, Weekdays, Weekend