Opening day at the new Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon was a resounding success last August, and a steady stream of visitors continues to visit the 5-acre non-profit facility, enriching their mountain experience whether as tourists or residents.

Without a home of its own for more than 13 years, the center, formerly known as Gore Range Natural Science School, is now housed in a multi-building site has a pond, natural spring, wetlands, aspen stands and pine forests. Previously, the center was make use of outdoor classrooms in the Eagle Valley. Walking Mountains Science Center focuses on natural science and environmental education programs.

It all started back in 1998, when Vail local Kim Langmaid, a naturalist and graduate student, watched as the area grew and local resorts were transformed into international destination. She longed for a way to share her passion for this mountain region and to teach others to feel a connection to them.

She opened the doors of the Gore Range Natural Science School in Red Cliff, Colorado, offering her first program.

What started as a grassroots effort has grown year-by-year, bolstered by tremendous support from the community and the convenient access of the 1-70 corridor that brings millions of visitors to the Valley.

Walking Mountains is a beautifully designed, environmentally responsible site; in fact, it is slated to receive the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)’s Platinum certification.

Using native stone, pine beetle-distressed wood, insulated glass, solar panels and other materials, it is modern, open and boasts lovely hand-painted nature scenes and murals throughout. It is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and aside from some special events and programs, free to the public.

Walking Mountains is a perfect place to stop off for a short visit when tired from skiing, snowboarding or river rafting, but is also an excellent place to spend several hours, or even a day. With its own hiking trails and picnic area, families can easily plan a day’s worth of activities around the center.

Family nature clubs include guided hikes, guest speakers, bird watching, botany, astronomy and animal tracking sessions.

Indoors, comprehensive exhibits include stream and watershed dynamics, a tactile exploration of the five senses, sustainability, mountain life zones and geology – all displayed on interactive screens with easy-to-read illustrated signs. Real mountain animal skins are available for hands-on exploration, as well as lifelike replicas of bones, beaks and other natural artifacts.

School-age children can participate in multi-day summer day camps, specific to age groups, such as “Creep and Crawl,” and “What Coyote Knows,” while older children (3rd grade and up) and experience three day overnight camps and wilderness challenges. Last summer, 267 youth participated in the camps. Wintertime programs might include hibernation, camouflage, astronomy, weather exploration, and more. Some programs have a charge, though most are free.

An offsite satellite center, the Nature Discovery Center, is on Vail Mountain, where naturalists hosted some 21,218 people last year for snowshoe tours, guided hikes, family evening programs and lessons for children in ski school.

Field science programs at both locations are taught by Walking Mountains Science Center’s team of Graduate Fellows who are pursuing coursework towards master’s degrees in environmental education.

Next time your kids are done with boarding, or are just “bored,” put down those iPads and head to Walking Mountains – a whole other Vail/Eagle County experience!

If You Go

www.walkingmountains.org, 970-827-9725, 318 Walking Mountain Lane, Avon, CO 81620

Irene Middleman Thomas is an award-winning writer for many local, national and international publications and websites, and loves exploring her home state of Colorado with her family.

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