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Mercer County Parks Nature Programs Get the Kids OUTSIDE & HAPPY

HAMILTON – Mercer County parks offer a wide landscape of open space ranging from meadows to forests, from the murmuring waters of Mercer Lake in West Windsor, to the winding trails at Mercer Meadows in Hopewell Township, to Baldpate Mountain, the highest point in the Capital County.

“Visitors to our County parks have an opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the setting, and also learn about the local environment from in-house experts,” said County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “Explore on your own or allow the Park Commission’s naturalists to share their knowledge through programs and activities that you’re sure to enjoy.”

“Mercer County Park Commission properties have been a destination for nature lovers for years,” said Executive Director Aaron T. Watson. “We continuously create unique and educational programs to attract more residents to our parks.”

Watson established the Environmental Education Department in 2019. This department, headed by Kelly Rypkema, went on to earn the 2019-2020 New Jersey Recreation and Park Association Excellence in Programming Award.

The hub of the Environmental Education Department is the Tulpehaking Nature Center. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Hamilton Township at the entrance to the Abbott Marshlands, Tulpehaking -- the Lenape word for land of the turtle -- hosts a wide range of activities each month, including the popular program “Just a Hike.”

“Just a Hikes have no theme and no itinerary,” said Rypkema, “They’re just a great way for anyone to get outside and explore, including those who might feel more comfortable in the outdoors with the guidance of our trained naturalists.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Yvonne De Carolis has been joining Park Commission “Just a Hike” programs for the past year. “Nature is the first thing I recommend to my clients to help them release their daily stresses, especially throughout the pandemic,” said De Carolis. Hikers get the chance to explore Baldpate Mountain, Roebling Park, Mercer Meadows and other locations, learning about the features of each park.

Other activities hosted by the Park Commission are Family Field Trips, Youth Fishing and Kayak Nature Tours. Do-it-yourself activities include Discover! Backpacks and Mystery Trail Hikes that inspire outdoor exploration with guidance from Naturalist-created study guides found online.

The Park Commission also works with local school districts and provides teachers with ideas, tools and lesson plans that get students outdoors to learn about the environmental sciences. Virtual school field trips, virtual lecture series and virtual summer camps were among the popular programs offered in 2020.

“We are fortunate to have the dedicated support of County Executive Hughes and our Commissioners, who promote equitable access to environmental education and programming,” said Watson. “We will continue to create innovative programs to encourage our constituents to appreciate the outdoors.”

For more information about the Environmental Education Department, visit the “Activities and Environment” section of the Park Commission’s website at www.mercercountyparks.org and click on “Nature Programs.”

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