Sunbathing turtles at Tacoma Nature Center


By Tami Jackson

Tired of the concrete jungle? A woodsy respite is just a short distance away. Photo by Tami Jackson

Take a walk on any of the soft surface trails inside the 71-acre nature preserve at Tacoma Nature Center (TNC) and you’ll meet other folks getting their exercise too. Cross a bridge where the sun-loving turtles live and you might see couples taking photos of those amniotes drying themselves on a floating log. Up closer to the nature center, there are plenty of parents with small children playing outside. Folks who want to explore the trails can go on a self-guided hike any day of the week, including weekends, from 8:30 a.m. until 30 minutes past sunset.

Walking is easy at TNC, 1919 S. Tyler St. It’s only difficult to get lost because roads surround the preserve and the trails are efficiently marked. Take the self-guided wetland tour and a long wooden bridge leads to a trail below the Highway 16 overpass. That’s where speeding motorists make a lot of noise but the Douglas fir trees, salal, Oregon grape and sword ferns correct the fumes for breathing clean air.

The wetland trails are marked with plenty of signs for watching ducks and turtles that move awkwardly on land and seamlessly in the water. Meanwhile, there are very peaceful places further back inside the park too. That’s where nature-lovers can practice “letting go” and really get their zen on.

The quieter you are, the more
you can hear in the deep woods

While quieting the mind so the soul can speak, preserve goers should keep a lookout for wildlife and dress appropriately with sturdy shoes. It’s important to stay surefooted when an antlered male deer might be feeling its oats during the rut or mating season. Of all the critters living in the preserve, Nature Center Supervisor Michele Cardinaux said the coyote would probably be considered the most dangerous there because it is the largest predator but, like the deer, they are not commonly seen. It’s much more likely to spot a tiny shrew or deer mouse. Then there’s Townsend’s chipmunk with its dark and light stripes shaped around its eyes and running down its back. Now is the time to look for those critters, before all those little Alvins, Theodores and Simons become less active in the winter.

Beyond the four-legged creatures, Cardinaux suggests hikers should watch for a barred owl that sometimes swoops down at people to defend its territory. As exciting as that may sound, birdwatchers might also see the Stellar’s jay, with its blue body and black crested head, or the black-and-white downy woodpecker with just a speck of red at the back of its feathery head. Yet there are many reptiles, animals and birds visiting or living around the center. For a short list of them, with pictures, see:

Leave wild foraging to the wildlife

Tacoma Nature Center is a preserve, so while human foragers might desire to pick berries, mushrooms and other herbal edibles, wild foraging by humans is discouraged. I found Bittersweet nightshade (solanum dulcamara) currently ripe with brilliant red egg-shaped berries there. The leaves on this vine are quite unusual looking with two small basal lobes nearest to the stem below the larger primary ovate leaf. According to the King County website ( “Bittersweet nightshade is somewhat poisonous and has caused loss of livestock and pet poisoning and, more rarely, sickness and even death in children who have eaten the berries.” So parents and foragers beware.

No Pets Allowed

Dogs need not feel discriminated against at TNC because no type of domestic pet (not even goldfish or boa constrictors) are allowed on the Nature Center trails. “We do not allow any domestic animals in the park because, as a preserve, we are here to protect the wildlife first,” said Cardinaux and then added, “Even the scent of predators, like dogs, can disturb the wildlife.”

Inside the nature center, there’s an information desk and a few small critters in terrariums and aquariums. There is also a significant amount of taxidermy on display, including a stuffed Blue Heron, a fox, raccoon and more.

Upcoming Programs and Events

TNC offers many different events all year long. To see a complete list, visit the website: Meanwhile, here are a few highlights.

Oct. 7, 9 a.m to 2 p.m., a native plant sale takes place at the Tacoma Nature Center. That doesn’t mean gnomes are out digging up plants from the preserve with tiny shovels only to sell them for profit. The center buys the plants from native plant wholesalers and all proceeds go to the operating budget, in support of the Nature Center’s programming. The plant sale staff there urge shoppers to come early for the best selection.

Oct. 14, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Adults (ages 18 and up) who want to paddle a kayak around the wetlands can view wildlife at one of the largest saltwater estuaries in the south sound, the Nisqually Delta. The Nature Center advertises this paddle opportunity for $65 + tax, ($58.50 for TNC members). Paddle to observe birds, sea life and plants in nature. Pre-registration is required and participants will meet at Luhr Beach boat launch.

Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to noon: You don’t have to be a landscape architect to help take care of the park by removing invasive plant species. Pull on your coveralls and muddy work boots then show up to help re-plant native plants and learn ways to nourish and help them thrive. There’s no experience necessary to get dirty. Just come dressed for the weather and join the volunteer work party rain or shine!

Oct. 21, 9:30-10:45 a.m.: On selected Saturdays parents with children 18-months to 12 years old may enroll in a class called Nature Yoga, for just $15 per parent/child combo and $5 for each additional child. In fact, there are many programs for children offered at the Nature Center. Parents will want to consult the website for more information.

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