Through the winding traffic circles that define driving in Sunriver, is a natural paradise where adults and kids can learn about the wildlife of Central Oregon, while coming face-to-face with it.
The Sunriver Nature Center is a non-profit educational center that offers lessons about the diverse area, from plants, animals, climate and history.
The center is close to the Sunriver marina and airport, and has a nature trail that staff use to educate their many visitors. The day I visited, a class of students went on a naturalist led bike tour to explore some of Sunriver’s wildlife.
“People bike, walk and run on the trail,” said Austin Buskohl, a seasonal naturalist at the center. “When we take tours, we stop and teach them about plants, animals, birds, and tracks from local critters”.
That’s the magic of the Sunriver Nature Center, it teaches you things without being a chore. It’s about coming eye-to-eye with nature, and making discoveries with the help of the friendly, knowledgeable staff. Inside the center itself – which is facing a small amphitheater for presentations -- are several stations where kids and adults can learn about Central Oregon features. The creepiest by far is the “creature cave.” Inside this area is a wall filled with all things creepy crawly. Scorpions, spiders and snakes – ok snakes don’t crawl, but you get the idea. All I have to say is thank goodness they were behind glass.
Another always-popular activity is “Whose scat is that?” where you try to identify animals by the scat they leave.
“There is nothing kids love more than scat,” said Hailee Newman, a seasonal naturalist. “Everything is touch friendly and safe. It isn’t really scat, but a model, so it’s safe for young ones.”
The center also has a gift shop with many books and activities, which is perfect if you have the kids with you on a road trip to Sunriver as it will give them something to do on the way home. There is also an entire room devoted to meteorites, and is the second largest exhibit in the Pacific Northwest. Meteorites from Arizona to Uganda fill the room, and each have a story.
While the inside of the center is fun, the outside is where you really get the full effect of what the Sunriver Nature Center has to offer. As a raptor rescue facility, they normally have several of the birds, from owls, hawks, falcons and even a Golden Eagle on site. The way the enclosures are set up, you get extremely close to the birds, and see details that normally you wouldn’t notice.
When I visited there were two owls that were simply amazing. The highlight of my trip, however, was meeting Aquila, the Golden Eagle.
Around the center is the Sam Osgood Nature Trail, which can take as little as 30 minutes and as long as an hour to walk, depending on how involved you want your visit. The quarter-mile trail meanders around Lake Aspen, where there are swans, ducks, geese, porcupines, frogs and other wildlife.
“That’s the one thing we try to tell people, inside the center is only part of the story,” Buskohl said. “You can see wildlife in its habitat around the lake, and last year we even had a deer swim out to the island and have her fawn.”
Outside the center is also a botanical garden, where they have replicated many of the environments around the state of Oregon. One of the more amazing features is how many birds and ground squirrels congregate in the garden – and eat at the feeders. You can get so close you can almost touch the birds, and if you sit still on one of the benches, the show is incredible.
“People can come here and learn how to plant a butterfly garden, or what plants will attract local birds,” Buskohl said. “We are here to teach and show people just how amazing Oregon can be.”
But that isn’t the only thing the center does, they also help local homeowners with general wildlife questions, bird and mammal rehabilitation and also to be a general resource to the area.
About Sunriver Nature Center: Kids dig it when they can prowl through the woods. Track a porcupine. Touch a reptile. Or go eye-to-eye with a Great Horned Owl.
That’s the Sunriver Nature Center…
Our hands-on activities, programs and exhibits fit easily into a weekend vacation. Our staff of naturalists will keep your kids curiously engaged and provide an exciting new perspective on the natural world. To us, there’s nothing sweeter than the oooohs and aaaahs of kids seeing something for the first time. So stop in today for teachable moments, precious memories and great photo ops.
The Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory is a non-profit, educational organization. But you don’t have to tell the kids that! We’re funded in part by the Second Tern Thrift Shop, located on Spring River road just a mile west of Sunriver.
What to bring: When visiting the center, make sure to wear comfortable shoes that won’t mind a little gravel trail, and have weather-appropriate clothing. If you plan on nature watching around the center, a good pair of binoculars and a telephoto lens for your camera are also good additions.
Tip: Buskohl said many people who visit the nature center focus inside, then walk the trail, but completely miss the raptor area where you can see majestic birds up close. Aquila is toward the back of the building, so take the time and really explore around the raptor area to see all of the amazing birds.
Season: The center is open year-round.
Getting there: The center is off Circle 3 in Sunriver at 57245 River Road. There are many signs that will direct you to the center so make sure and follow them as GPS has a hard time with the many roundabouts in Sunriver. Center staff also said that if visitors get lost, call them at 541-593-4394 and they can talk you in. As locals know, new people frequently get turned around, so don’t be afraid to call.
By Patrick Johnson