Prairie Ridge Ecostation
April 22, 2019
Prairie Ridge Ecostation is a hidden gem in Raleigh, NC. The 40-acre park is an outdoor treasure. You can stroll through the trails examining trees in the arboretum. You can spy on birds from the bird blind. You can watch scientific experiments being performed. You can watch your young kids explore nature.
The Ecostation, a part of the North Carolina Museum of Science, resides outside of the downtown area. Located near both the North Carolina Museum of Art and William B Umstead State Park, it is a nature oasis for Raleigh natives and visitors alike.
“There are even two bison in the park – a mama and a baby”— quipped a volunteer
As we walked into the park, an enthusiastic volunteer gave us an overview. He fell in love with the place after visiting it years ago and gives back by volunteering with the grounds-keeping crew. He told us “There are even two bison in the park – a mama and a baby.” Being more than a little gullible, I believed him until he started laughing.
Why does Prairie Ridge EcoStation exist? The official answer is:
“Prairie Ridge furthers the Museum’s mission of enhancing public understanding and appreciation of the natural environment by providing an outdoor learning space while acting as a model for renewable and sustainable energy. ”Prairie Ridge Ecostation. (n.d.). The Ecostation. Retrieved from https://naturalsciences.org/prairie-ridge
Serendipity is key to this park. View it as a place to convene with nature and to learn about environmental topics. Don’t expect to use it as an exercise park. Don’t expect to escape city sounds. Don’t rush through the park. Take time to sit, watch, and listen. The ‘wow’ factor of this park sneaks up on you the more time you spend here.
North Carolina used to have prarie lands. At the Ecostation, the prairie land meadow is recreated via modern methods. A prescribed burn is done every so often. And then the modern day bison (a.k.a. lawnmowers) maintain the native grasses in-between burns.
The grounds are open to the public and are also used for scientific experiments and community collaboration. One example is the experiment involving Monarch butterfly larvae. The results are entered into a national registry to help monitor the health of the monarch population. It takes four generations of butterflies to make the migration from Mexico to the United States and back so tracking the health of all stages of the Monarch is critical.
An example of community collaboration is the Swift Chimney Roost Tower. It was built in partnership with the Wake Audubon society and included donations from the community. The tower area provides a spot for Chimney Swifts to roost and is also an excellent viewing spot to watch their migration.
Things to do at Prairie Ridge EcoStation
The Ecostation offers a variety of activities for all ages.
- Stroll along the Forest Trail or the Prairie Trail
- Let young kids discover and explore at the Nature PlaySpace area
- Participate in a Citizen Saturday Science program
- Observe birds from the trails or from the bird blind that overlooks the pond
- Watch the chimney swifts at the Swifts Swirl Inn
- Check out the variety of native trees in the Arboretum section
- Learn about green technology at the Outdoor Classroom
- Admire the bison sculptures in the Piedmont Prairie field
- On special event nights, stargaze with the Raleigh Astronomy Club
- Location: 1671 Gold Star Drive Raleigh, NC
- Parking: Main parking is located at the main entrance.
- Hours: Refer to their website for current hours but they are generally open seven days a week except for holidays
- Restrooms: available near the Open Classroom
- Size: 45 acres including two main trails
- Kid appropriate: Yes
- Cost: Free
- Best time to visit: It is an all-season location. Each month offers the potential to see something new blooming or different birds
The Prairie Ridge Ecostation qualifies as a gold-star on the list of outdoor things to do in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Thanks to K Lynn Innovations, LLC for the photo collaboration.