Families arrived toting sleeping bags and tents in anticipation of the Greenburgh Nature Center’s ninth annual overnight July 13 — one of two taking place this summer.
Nature center staff walked around offering to help anyone who needed it while also setting up activities and preparing food for the night.
About 15 families — more than 50 people in all — gathered from all over Westchester to pitch a tent on the center’s lawn and sleep under the stars. While parents set up tents, the kids played on the playground, watched dinner cook over an open fire, or met animals like Ziggy the iguana and Colonel Mustard the tortoise.
Sara Lehman and her son, who live in Yonkers, were one of the first families to pick a spot for their tent. The two have been to many Greenburgh Nature Center events and Lehman’s son attends the day camp. “We love coming here,” said Lehman.
The Greenburgh Nature Center at 99 Dromore Road off of Central Avenue covers 33 acres of local flora and fauna, and offers many events and programs for families in Westchester, including composting events, school programs, teaching trails, Feeding Fun, in which families can see the many animals at the Greenburgh Nature Center get their lunch, and a live butterfly exhibit.
This was not the first Greenburgh Nature Center overnight for many of the families. Elizabeth and Jason Jackson, who live in Ossining, came for their second overnight with their daughter. Like Lehman, the Jacksons love the Greenburgh Nature Center and all it offers. The Jacksons were looking forward to the naturalist-led night hike, where they could see fireflies and bioluminescent mushrooms. Their daughter was most looking forward, she said, to seeing “bunnies and bats.”
Along with the iguana and tortoise, a rabbit named Boonie came out to spend time with kids as they enjoyed a dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob and potatoes.
Other families were first-timers, but were excited nonetheless. Rania Missoumi, who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, said she and her kids like to “camp” in their backyard. While they feel like they aren’t ready to camp out in the Adirondacks, they felt like the Greenburgh Nature Center was the perfect, and safe, first step.
Greg Wechgelaer, the nature center’s director of education, organizes the campouts. He and another senior naturalist came up with the idea in 2010, thinking it would be a great way for families to be introduced to camping in a safe and familiar environment.
“We’re living in an age where people are becoming more and more disconnected to nature,” said Wechgelaer. “Getting the kids outside for a night of camping couldn’t be more central to our mission of igniting passion, curiosity and respect for our natural world.”
Wechgelaer and his team also brought the families up to the animal museum after dark so they could see all the animals the Greenburgh Nature Center has in its collection. All the lights were left off, giving the children an opportunity to explore with their flashlights. The families also got a chance to say goodnight to the goats and sheep while the staff put the animals back in their pens.
The event also had volunteers helping out, including Carl and Monika Kerschus-Granholm, who have helped out with the event since it began. Monika Kerschus-Granholm has a special connection with the Greenburgh Nature Center, having grown up there from ages 2 to 11 while her father was a caretaker for the estate.
“I love helping with the overnight,” she said. “It brings me back to when I lived here.”
Like Wechgelaer, Kerschus-Granholm believes in the importance of exposing kids to the natural world to learn more about the earth and build empathy for all creatures.
The next overnight at the Greenburgh Nature Center is Saturday, Aug. 3, 5:30 p.m. through Sunday, Aug. 4, 8:30 a.m. The fee is $25 for children, $75 for adults. Membership is required to register for the program, which can accommodate up to 75 people.
For more information, go to greenburghnaturecenter.org.