Come Check Out the New Mural at River Bend Nature Center!

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Hello everyone! As some of you may know I have been working on designing and painting the prairie mural of River Bend Nature Center’s north wall. The wall is coming along great and we are nearing the end of this project. However, before I go any further I would just like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated paint and helped make this project possible; as well as Anne Foxen, Johanna Beam, Erika Tipp, and Liz Brown for all you help over the last two Sundays with painting the foreground, detail, plants, and animals you all are amazing artists so thank you for helping make the ideas and designs come to life! Below I have included more information of what has been going into making this prairie wall come to life; as well as some sneak preview pictures of the wall. If you haven’t had the chance to come to River Bend Nature Center yet and see the wall I highly recommend it!

Designing the Prairie Mural

When it came to designing the Prairie Mural there were a lot of things I had to take into account. We already had the river mural on the west wall and a small prairie wood edge mural in the Kid’s Corner to the east of the wall so it made the most sense to incorporate these both into the prairie mural so it could flow almost seamlessly from one mural to the next. Additionally we have a beautiful large painting by Dan Milbert on this wall called “Pre-Settlement Spring” – Sandhill cranes, so I did not want to design a scene or landscape that clashed with this painting. Lastly we also have many mounted animals on the wall that we wanted to keep out on display so I also had to incorporate these into the wall, sounds easy enough right?

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So how I designed the concept sketch and eventually the wall was taking the river from the river wall and having it flow on the wall from the west across the north wall to connect with the river on Milbert’s painting. I then extended the landscape of the forested hills in the back of Milbert’s painting on to the wall and connected it with the landscape in the background on the river wall. After this it got easy. By relying on my knowledge of prairie ecosystems I had a natural change in the landscape between oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I sketched forest along the river and transitioned it to oak savannah as the river bluff got steeper and blending into the rolling hills of the mesic prairie and into the depressions of the wet prairie. Lastly when it came to designing the overall concept of the wall other River Bend Staff and I moved some of the taxidermy around the wall to spots that made more sense for the habitat that species lived in.

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The process of moving the bison head to paint

Then came the fun part compiling lists of the plants and animals I have seen here at River Bend Nature Center or other restored prairies in Minnesota as well as what you would historically find in oak savannah, mesic prairie, and wet prairie. I then divided the mural up into sections and started dividing the different animals and plants into these sections on the wall that made the most sense to see them. This also made it easier to keep track of what volunteers were working where on the mural.

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One of many concept sketches

 

Painting the Landscape

After the overall design was approved I did a rough sketch on to the wall for where things went and then the painting began! I and Jason, River Bend’s Land & Facility Assistant, then primed and painted the wall the base sky blue. From there it was the process of mixing colors and giving color, shape, and shadow to the landscape; and depth to the sky with increasingly darker blues and clouds. Once the rolling prairie was achieved I moved on to the more complicated section of the mural adding the tree covered bluffs and the trees to the oak savannah as well as the river flowing behind them. The landscape has turned out great and I will continue to add touch ups and details here and there but it is the next step that I am really excited for that will really make the painting coming to life!

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Adding the Plants and Animals

So now for the last two weeks Anne, Johanna, Erika, Liz, and I have been working on painting the foreground and adding the detailed plants and animals to the mural. My big project that is pretty much done now was painting a body for our bison head mount which if I do say so myself has turned out very realistic! Depending on where you stand looking at the wall it looks like the bison really is coming right out of the wall which is pretty incredible.

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Elsa finishing up painting the Bison body

Erika, Annie, and Liz worked on adding the detailed grass in the mesic prairie under the bison. Additionally Erika and Liz did all the detailed flowers and plants under the bison, Erika also did a tiger swallowtail butterfly, and Anne painted the rocks and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. Johanna took on the challenge of standing on a ladder painting a turkey vulture flying over the oak savanna which has turned out beautiful and so realistic!

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Lastly I did the foreground painting of the wetland and today and tomorrow I will be adding some wetland plants to it. The project is almost done with only some more detailed animals and plants that need to be added and each day we work on the mural it becomes more realistic and beautiful! So I hope you come to River Bend Nature Center to check it out as we finish it or when it is done!

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Relaxation & Reflection at River Bend Nature Center

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Hello everyone! As promised, here is my blog post about the quiet and less visited places at River Bend Nature Center. I hope your River Bend Bucket Lists are coming along great, and here is a post to help you check off another thing off your list! (https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/let-us-help-with-your-new-years-resolutions/) Recently, there has been a lot of research and news coming out about the health benefits of having quiet time in nature.  I have included links to some of the news articles that cover this research below but overall the research can be summarized into two groupings physical benefits and mental benefits.

The physical benefits make sense and include a lot of effects, from increased exercise outdoors, like a healthier physique, decreased risk for diabetes, decreased risk for asthma and respiratory disorders, and increased heart health. There is also growing evidence to support the mental benefits of being out in nature that may confirm your own personal experience of feeling mentally clear and emotionally better after spending time in nature. The list of mental benefits from spending time in nature includes: decreased risk for anxiety & depression, lower stress levels, increased cognition, and decreased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. Additionally, the last link I have included talks about how the brain benefits from silence because I am one of those people who likes to double dip on my health benefits, so in other words I meditate outside in nature.

List of some research on the health benefits of nature by topic

https://www.asla.org/healthbenefitsofnature.aspx

News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Outside

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/22/how-nature-changes-the-brain/?_r=0

http://www.businessinsider.com/scientific-benefits-of-nature-outdoors-2016-4

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/

News Articles Covering Health Benefits of Silence

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/silence-brain-benefits_us_56d83967e4b0000de4037004

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Below, I have included some great trails and spots for relaxation and reflection at River Bend. This is by no means a complete list, and each location has its pro’s and con’s. So I have divided them into 4 rough zones focusing more on the central part of the park that is easier to reach. I then have described the noise/traffic, how far/hard of a walk, and seating; and then the elements of the location views, sun, and mosquitoes so that you can pick the spots that fit you. I have also included a link to a map for places to park and trails to take to get to the spots. My personal opinion is that spring and fall are the best time of the year to sit in quiet places in nature because of the lack of bugs, the relatively warm temperatures, and if it’s a little damp in the spot you pick, all you need is a blanket or tarp and that makes it more fun. A quick thing to note is most of the locations I picked had benches, but some did not. When using the park at River Bend you should always use the trails and not create your own so if you plan on sitting on the ground, you can do so next to the trail. Additionally we want you to have a fun and safe time here so make sure to take the proper precautions depending on the time of year accounting for things like mosquitos, ticks, sunburn, ice, etc.

Here is the link to the Google map I have created with the different loops and spots labeled and more details about the spots as well as pictures to go with them when you click on them on the map!

Quiet Places at River Bend Nature Center

Here is an additional link to our trail map to help you find other trails and see exactly where the steep spots are located! http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/TrailMap15.pdf

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Overlook Loop – Prairie, sunnier, great views, more people, less mosquitos

The trails to the North Ridge Overlook, depending on the day and the trails you pick, can be busy. There is a nice mixture of habitat including prairie, woods, and some bluff habitat that at one time might have been oak savannah but now is a mixture of oak, aspens, and buckthorn. The trails can be a little steeper so you can get a mild work out in on your way up but the loop is only about 1 mile. The spot with the best view is the North Ridge Overlook itself, although close seconds are the Walnut & Overlook intersection and Ash & Raccoon intersection. I always find this loop very inspiring and invigorating and I feel that most of this comes from the views.  This loop gets a fair amount of traffic since most people like a spot with a view so my recommendation is to come during the early morning or work day if you want spots with views that are also quiet. Additional spots along the route I really enjoyed were the spring banding station that is the Ruth Wiberg Memorial, a collection of small hills by the North Ridge Overlook that were already dry after this most recent melt, and a bench hidden beneath some cedar by the Upper Parking Lot.

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Walnut Loop – less people, can have more mosquitos, more peaceful scenery

The walnut trail gets its name from the stand of Walnut trees on the section of the trail that is a part of this loop. Walnut is less used by people so this makes it usually a quieter trail but there can be more mosquitos. The best way I can describe this loop is that the scenery is more peaceful – I always feel a calming effect when walking on or sitting along this trail. The whole loop is about 1.42 miles from the upper parking lot and back and at a gradual to steeper incline. There are also no benches so if you want to stop and sit for a while it will be on the ground next to the trail. There is however some great spots to sit on a blanket right next to the trail, just don’t forget to tuck your pants and wear bug spray!

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Prairie Loop – more people, less mosquitos, sunny, great views

The Prairie Loop that I take has only three bench areas for sitting on, with two in the prairie and one sitting area on the Prairie Pond dock. There are, however, many spots next to the trail to sit down on the grass. The Prairie Pond dock is usually shadier and can have more mosquitos in the summer but in the spring and fall it has just as great views at the prairie spots. The prairie spots while they are the sunnier spots , but are more exposed to the wind and on a beautiful day can have a lot of traffic. This trail is also about a mile loop to and from the main parking lot by the interpretive center and is a pretty easy trail except for one steep part up into the prairie by Prairie Pond. The bench on the hill overlooking Prairie Pond is one of my favorite spots at River Bend Nature Center. It is a peaceful spot and I always have a hard time leaving this bench.

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Cherry & Raspberry Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitos, mixture of sun & shade, great views, lots of peaceful spots

The Cherry & Raspberry trails loop had the least number of people I encountered at one of the peak times for people out in the park which is around 4 to 5 pm when everyone is getting off work. So if you are looking for less people on your quiet walk or coming by your quiet spot, I highly recommend this trail. This loop has a good mixture of habitat but the bulk of it is thick, damp, and shady woods, so the mosquitos can be a nuisance depending on the time of the year and the location so wearing bug spray in the summer is a good idea. Some highlights for this loop is that it takes you through some of the less visited restored prairie habitat and at the bend in raspberry there is a bench under a huge ancient tree that is a very quiet and peaceful spot. However, most of the sitting benches or spots with great views are near the road including the gravel pit, Upper Pond Dock, and the Waterfall. Depending on the time of the year the water falling is so loud it provides great background noise for covering up the sounds of cars. In the heat of summer it is a nice cool spot to visit, though there can be quite a few mosquitos and people there since it is close to the road. The Gravel Pit usually has wind blowing through it that pushes the sound of cars toward the prairie so it is not as noisy as it could be right next the road and it also tends to be more sunny are is one of the best spots for watching the sun set at River Bend Nature Center. This whole loop is about 1.25 miles and a mixture of gradual and steeper trail sections; I found the easier walk is going down cherry and up raspberry back along the road and you can either park at the waterfall or the upper parking lot. I have another favorite spot along this trail, but this one is a gem, so I challenge you to come out and hike it and see if you can find it!

 

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River Trails Loop – less people, more mosquitoes, great river views, shady & cool in summer, calm and peaceful

In all honesty, I did not have the chance to explore the River trails as much I would have liked but they are what you would expect for floodplain forest trails along the river. They have great views and are very quiet. Maple trail seems to be less used by people and same with Trout Lily. In the summer I usually biked down trout lily so I don’t know how bad the mosquitoes were, but even with a good breeze from the river it probably would be a good idea to wear bug spray since it is a floodplain forest. There also are quite a few benches along these trails meaning if someone is on one bench you can walk farther down the trail to another one. The highlights for this loop I felt were the overlook bench on Maple trail above the river, the straight stretch of Trout Lily trail with all its benches where you know from the previous blog post was where the ice dam was located, and the view from Honor Point at the end of Trout Lily trail looking over the river and beach. Overall, this complete loop is about 1.65 miles starting and ending at the main parking lot; however with the multiple maple and owl trails connection to the loop you could break it up into shorter loops if you would like. The big thing to remember with the trails along the river is most of the trails leading down to the river are somewhat steep so it is going to be a work out getting back up to the parking lot either way.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about some of the quiet loops and spots closer to the parking lots in the main section of River Bend Nature. There still are many spots not mentioned here in the main part of the park as well in the outer trails just waiting to be found. So we hope you can come to River Bend Nature Center and explore some of the trails we mentioned and find some of your own favorite spots to read, relax, reflect, meditate, pray, etc. and as always enjoy being out in nature. I look forward to seeing you on the trails in these different spots, and good luck finding my other favorite spot!

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Let Us Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions!

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With the New Year starting I am sure many of you are getting started on your New Year’s resolutions and I am excited to announce that River Bend Nature Center is here to help you achieve your goals! Maybe this year you are trying to be more active or maybe it is to spend more time with family and friends, you can do this and more at River Bend Nature Center! We have included below some common New Year’s Resolutions and ways you can work toward these goals at River Bend Nature Center. We wish you the best of luck with your resolutions and hope we can help you achieve them!

 

#1 Be healthy – Get Fit – Stay Active!

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River Bend Nature Center has 10 miles of trails open year round from 6 am to 10 pm for skiing, snow shoeing, hiking, and biking! Starting this spring after the mud dries, you will be able to rent mountain bikes at River Bend Nature Center. To learn more click the following link. http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/bikes/index.htm

If skiing is what you are interested in, you may be excited to hear that we also groom some of our trails for skiing at River Bend Nature Center. Check out the link for the map to see what trails are groomed when there is enough snow! http://www.rbnc.org/pdfs/Cross%20Country%20Ski%20Trail%20Map.pdf So grab your MN Ski Pass ($20 for 1 year pass) that you can purchase at any MN State Park or location where you can buy a hunting or fishing license. For more information about the MN Ski Pass check out the DNR’s website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/skipass/index.html  We hope to see you out skiing on the trails!

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If attaching your feet to skis is not your activity, you can snowshoe, hike, run, bike, or walk your dog (always on a leash) on any trail at RBNC with no entrance fee. River Bend offers some beautiful views to accompany you on your run or bike ride check out some of our favorite loops on our post about running at River Bend! https://rbnc.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/running-at-river-bend/

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If you need some additional encouragement to get out running, watch for details and sign up for our Maple Syrup 5K/10K/1 mile walk fun run on May 6th! These are just some of the most common ways people are being active at River Bend Nature Center so keep your eyes open for more outdoor recreation opportunities in the future!

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#2 Spend More Time with Friends, Family & Your Significant Other

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River Bend Nature Center also offers a great place and lots of options for getting together with friends, family, and significant others. If you are looking to come and do an activity as a family or be active come and rent some snowshoes, cross country skis, or mountain bikes.

If you are looking for something a little less active or that is free to do come out and walk on our trails and take the kids to the wild play area where kids and the kid in all of us can build forts, bridges and dams on the small stream that runs through the area, and play to your heart’s content!

We also have more relaxed programs like Bagels and Birds on the first Saturday of the month at 9:30 am where you can come and have a bagel and watch the birds have their breakfast while hanging out with family and friends in the interpretive center. The next birds and bagels is February 4th, 2017! Check out more at the included link https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=643

If you are looking to get the family together for a birthday party you can have it at our Nature Center for 2 hours with 1 hour for your party and an hour for a naturalist led activities of your choice! Learn more at http://www.rbnc.org/birthdays/ .

Are you looking to get together family and friends for a reunion, graduation party, or some other get together? River Bend offers different rental spaces that range in fees. To learn more about renting spaces at River Bend click here  http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/facilities/index.htm !

Looking for more ways to hang out with friends and family or for date ideas for you and your significant other? River Bend has a lot of great picnic spots in the summer and for those who are prepared with a thermos of hot cocoa and a blanket, some great winter spots as well. We will also be having a Candle Light Hike from 6:30 to 8:00 on Saturday, February 11th great for you and your significant other, friends, and families to come and attend! To register click the link! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=952 There are always great events happening at River Bend Nature Center for you to get out and be social with the people you care about!

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#3 Learn Something New

Another great thing about River Bend Nature Center is since its focus is Environmental Education there are always new things to learn about! In addition to learning something new from one of our interpretive displays or brochures we also have different public programs offered throughout the month that you can attend and learn something new!

We offer a monthly lunch and learn program call Older Wiser Livelier Seniors (OWLS) with the next topic on Astronomy happening on Wednesday, February 15th from noon to 2 pm. Pre-register here! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=951

We also offer a monthly home school class the next one happening on February 22nd is called Coping with the Cold! Please pre-register at the included link! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/event.jsp?event=608

Another monthly program we have where you can come and learn something new and meet our interpretive animals is our Animal Ambassadors program and the next one is on Saturday, February 18th!

Check our website’s events page with more awesome public programs coming in the future for you to learn about new topics or learn a new skill! https://riverbend.z2systems.com/np/clients/riverbend/eventList.jsp

There are also lot of apps you can use on your phone to learn new things while out hiking the trails. Here are a few apps that the naturalists use here at River Bend Nature Center including: iNaturalist, E-Bird, Sky Map, or a different science/nature app.

#4 Volunteer & Other Ways to Make the World a Better Place!

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River Bend Nature Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit which means there are always plenty of volunteer opportunities and ways to help! In fact we even have a whole webpage devoted to volunteering to help you find the right volunteer opportunity for you at River Bend Nature Center. We have 8 on-going volunteer positions at River Bend Nature Center including: Volunteer Naturalists, Office Volunteers, Weekend Building Volunteers, Restoration Club Volunteers, River Bend Rangers, Cross Country Ski Groomers, River Bend Mowers, and Maple Syruping volunteers! You can learn more about these positions at our website page for volunteering at River Bend Nature Center at the following link! http://www.rbnc.org/volunteer/

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Restoration Club meets every Wednesday afternoon and is always looking for new people interested in helping us work on the land doing activities like invasive species removal, trail repair and more. Come learn new restoration techniques to take home to implement on your own property. You can learn more by emailing Emily Greger, our Public Program Coordinator at greger@rbnc.org and to be added to an email alert list.

The Board of Directors and its committees are always looking for people who are interested in joining them. Current committees that are looking for volunteer committee members include Membership, Development, Ramble, Land/Facilities, Programs/Events, and 40th Anniversary. Watch our website for committee applications or contact Breanna, our Executive Director at 332-7151 or wheeler@rbnc.org to express your interest.

We are always looking for special event volunteers for our larger events like Winterfest, Maple Syrup Fun Run/Pancake Breakfast, and Bats, Bones, & Bonfires! Currently we are looking for special project volunteers to help paint the Prairie Mural at our Nature Center! If you are interested in volunteering please email Elsa Litecky, our Environmental Educator in charge of this project at litecky@rbnc.org .

If you do not have the time to come out and volunteer there are still plenty of other ways to help support River Bend Nature Center and make the world a better place! Become a member – see www.rbnc.org/membership or make a financial contribution – see www.rbnc.org/donate. You can make a general donation or for something more specific like having a loved one’s name engraved on a brick and installed at Honor Point. Another specific donation you can make is to the Partners Scholarship Fund http://www.rbnc.org/scholarship/ to help offer reduced enrollment fees for kids to attend summer camps whose families have financial hardships.

You can help by donating things that we need for programs like cardboard toilet paper rolls or item for special events and projects. You can also donate plastic gallon size milk containers to help build a plastic reusable igloo. Stephanie Rathsack one of our environmental educators is leading this awesome project! If you are excited about the prairie mural but don’t want to paint, another way you can help is by donating old interior house paint or acrylic paint in greens, yellows, browns, blues, blacks, and whites to River Bend from now until February 15th!

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#5 Spend Less Money

There is no parking permit or entry fee required to visit River Bend Nature Center! Additionally, River Bend offers many affordable programs and rentals. You can rent a Nordic ski package (boots, poles, skis) or snowshoes for $10 a person for 24 hours on site at River Bend Nature Center. If you are a River Bend Member you can spend $5 per a ski package or snowshoe rental. Check out more information on renting gear here! http://www.rbnc.org/rentals/winter/index.htm

Becoming a member and making donations to River Bend Nature Center is tax deductible, which helps save money on your taxes. See #4. And, members receive discounts on summer camps, equipment rentals, public programs, and special events.

#6 Read More

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If your resolution is to read more stop by River Bend Nature Center and check out our bird watching and reading nook. It’s a quiet place to sit and enjoy a book you brought and maybe some of the tea we offer, we provide hot water, mugs, and a selection of teas but you are welcome to bring your own hot cocoa. You can also borrow one of the books off of the bookshelves that were once a part of the River Bend library that some of you may remember. The books and bookshelves were donated by members and founders in some cases honoring loved ones, and there is even a collection of Orwin Rustad’s books. We also still allow people to check out some of these books from River Bend Nature Center so we welcome you to come check it out!

If you are also looking for a group to join so you can read and enjoy books with another group of people check out the Nature Book Club that meets from 7 to 8 pm the last Tuesday of the month with the next meeting happening February 28th reading “The end of the night: Searching for natural darkness in an age of artificial light” by Paul Bogard.

 

#7 Improve Your Mental & Emotional Health

As you may know from different studies being outside in nature is great for your mental health. It can help you relax and improve your mood. There are plenty of benches and spots around River Bend that you can walk to and spend some time alone doing whatever helps your mental & emotional health. So we invite you to come to River Bend Nature Center and walk out to one of our many quiet places to meditate, write, pray, read, draw, paint, do yoga, walk or whatever helps you destress and focus on your well-being. Stay tuned for a future article from me on finding the best quiet spots at River Bend and how to get to them but for now I invite you to my favorite quiet spot a bench on a hill overlooking some of the prairie.

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#8 Get Off Your Electronics

If you are looking for a place to come and unplug, this is a great place for you! Spending time outside is a great way to recharge and reconnect with what is happening off-screen. There are lots of fun activities for you to do out here at River Bend Nature Center that don’t require a phone. Unless you want to use it to take pictures then your secret is safe with us.

Some of my favorite things to do here are River Bend in the winter is to search for animal tracks, mimic bird whistles, and go exploring. Having snow and little vegetation makes it easier to see things you wouldn’t normally be able to see in the summer months like where two coyotes played off the trail or where a mouse was suddenly snatched up by a hawk. There are plenty of other fun things to do at River Bend that don’t require a phone so if you are looking for ideas take a peek at our attached list below!

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#9 Live Life to the Fullest

There is plenty to do at River Bend Nature Center and always something new to learn or do. If your goal is to live life to the fullest, I challenge you to turn this list into a kind of River Bend Nature Center Bucket List and come back and see how many of these things and others that you can check off over the next year! The link to our River Bend Nature Center Bucket list is below. I hope this helps you with your New Year’s Resolutions and that I see you some time out at River Bend Nature Center!

River Bend Nature Center Bucket List

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