Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Embrace local.  Explore often.

Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Outdoor Classroom which is an example of green technology and architecture at the prairie ridge ecostation

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.

Two wire bison sculptures in a meadow at Prairie Ridge Ecostation
Modern day bison. Photo by K Lynn Innovations, LLC


Purpose

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.

Turtle crawling out of water onto the nesting area of a goose
Wildlife viewing. Photo by K Lynn Innovations, LLC

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.

Large red chimney used by chimney swift birds for roosting. Created in collaboration between Prairie Ridge Ecostation and Wake Audubon society.
Chimney Swift Tower. Photo by K Lynn Innovations, LLC

Things to do at Prairie Ridge EcoStation

Bird blind covered in colorful mural overlooking a pond at Prairie Ridge Ecostation
Bird blind. Photo by K Lynn Innovations, LLC

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

Fast Facts

  • 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.