We’ve always been a camping family and a family that loved the outdoors, so much so that my husband once made me a PowerPoint on the type of RVs/Campers we could get. Needless to say, we love everything that involves nature.
That being said, we knew camping and exploring was off the table for the time being due to Coronavirus, a new baby, and the danger of the baby falling asleep in the car. Our favorite place to explore is Harrington Beach, which is 32 minutes away from our home. It holds a fond memory for us, as it’s the last “hike” we went on before becoming a family of three! That said, 32 minutes in the car with a baby, not ideal. Especially if you’re attempting to add some sort of sleep training to the routine and have FINALLY gotten it down to a specified range of times–one quick nap in the car can ruin a whole day!
That’s precisely why, when we found the Forest Exploration Center, we knew that it was what we had been waiting for.
We stumbled upon the Forest Exploration Center a few months ago as we walked County Grounds in Wauwatosa. The County Grounds provides a great 3-mile trek for any family looking to get out and have a socially distanced walk that’s not in their neighborhood (aka us!). We had possibly been to The County Grounds ten billion times before stumbling upon the new Forest Exploration Center.
Upon entering the parking lot, you can tell that the Forest Exploration Center is still unknown to many. You can mosey your way right into the lot, free of charge from dusk until dawn! It’s tucked away behind County Grounds and right off of the bend of a brand new round-about. Many people miss it, on their way, twirling around the dreaded round-about, trying to find the right exit on the first try. If you’re not looking for it, you will surely not see it on your first go-round. (Note: As we were walking, we noticed two ways to get inside and explore! One way is off of Swan Blvd, and the other is by the Wil-O-Way Underwood Center.)
Pro Tip: If your dog goes potty in the woods, you need to clean it up and take it away. There are no garbage cans in the woods, but there is one by the Wil-O-Way Entrance! There is also a cute picnic table there! Did someone say, “LUNCH?!”
Once you settle into a parking space, you may be a little shocked by how beautiful it all is. You’re surrounded by nature, in your own backyard! I’ll be the first to say that there is nothing more beautiful than that. It’s also nice to know that right in the parking lot are port-a-potties! Very nice to have if you’ve got little ones who HAVE TO go and can’t hold it.
Pro Tip: Be sure to wear hiking shoes or boots if it just recently rained. The path, while it does have gravel, can get a little muddy.
Since schools can book guided tours with the Forest Exploration Center, you will see many signs around the center that touch on what lives in the forest, why people come to the forest, and how to take care of the forest. I loved stopping at each of these spots, thinking back on my rage when Mount Mary cut down a mass of trees to build more development this past summer. The Forest Exploration Center is the perfect place to go and remember why we need the forest in the first place.
One particular sign reads: “Humans Need, Forests Provide. Tranquility, Necessity, Sustenance.”
If you’re looking for Tranquility, you can find it here. This exploration center was just what my little family needed during this time of chaos in the world. Upon entering to begin our exploring, we were met with nothing but the shade of trees, chirping of birds, and the blowing of the wind. The most beautiful part is that there was a stillness to the woods that no one could disrupt. Another family entered shortly after us and gave us enough distance to not clash with our dogs. No dog barking, no excess human voices, just me, my husband, son, dog, and the beauty of nature.
If you’re looking for a “necessary” getaway, you can find it here. Walking along the path, just the sound of my dog panting, son cooing, and our feet stomping really did something to me. It’s been a year for me. My family always travels, camps, and explores, and I feel like we were robbed of that this year. Our necessity of getting out and feeling like ourselves again was fulfilled at the Forest Exploration Center. I, alone, just wanted to feel like myself again. All the plans I had for 2020, of my son meeting his grandparents, aunts, and uncles worry-free, of showing off my son to my friends, and of settling in to being new parents with unnecessary anxiety… it was all stripped away from me this year. For just 35 minutes, I felt whole again. I felt like life wasn’t being lived in the middle of a pandemic, during an election year with the weight of the world on my shoulders to do motherhood the “right” way.
If you’re looking for sustenance, you can find it here. Sustenance is defined as a source of strength, of nourishment. Wow, did I feel that while exploring! I felt strong enough to let myself remember the times when life was good, whole, and “normal.” My husband and I have refrained from reminiscing on our past life and experiences, especially since things are so different this year. However, being at the Forest Exploration Center, I felt strong enough to remember that life will be normal again, it will be whole again, and it will be good as long as I’ve got my family to explore it with.
Although the Forest Exploration Center may not be used for its intended purposes this year, the Forest Exploration Center provides much more to a community that needs tranquility, sustenance, and the occasional necessary getaway.
These woods provided a way for my little family of three to escape for just a few minutes, out of the world of politics, hectic schedules, and stress, into a world where no one cares what time the baby naps, no one cares what political party you belong to and no one cares what you have planned for the remainder of the day.
Some would say it was a sweet escape.
To see more information about the Forest Exploration Center, visit their website at https://www.forestexplorationcenter.org/ or click here.