Martin Park Nature Center brings the wild to town, with miles of trails through forests and meadows

Hikers, joggers, walkers and families can commune with nature without leaving the shadow of the city's hustle and bustle with a visit to Martin Park Nature Center, 5000 W. Memorial.

Visitors and wildlife share four trails that wind through the tall trees and patches of prairie comprising the 141-acre city park. Guiding attendees to the best vistas, 3.5 miles of trails include several wooden bridges crossing creeks and gullies, leading to an observation tower, sunshine gazebo and meadow trail arbor.

Wandering the woods and grassy meadows, it's almost possible to forget that housing additions, retail shops and major traffic routes surround the quiet confines.

Nature conservation and education are major themes throughout the park. Markers can be found at several points along the trails to educate hikers about the animals and plants that live and grow in the woods, waters and grasslands. The park offers a variety of guided weekend nature hikes for only $2 per person. Children age 9 to 13 can join its Green Earth Gang to participate in free conservation projects alongside park naturalists. Staff members are working to restore native plants and grasses in a large meadow they call "Field of Dreams."

The park's visitor center is stocked with educational, hands-on exhibits for children. Kids can play nature detective and examine fossils, animal bones and skins up close and under microscopes. The center also houses live exhibits of fish, turtles, toads and snakes that call Martin Park home.

The site also serves as a protected wildlife sanctuary, and visitors should be sure to bring a few quarters to buy food for the fish and turtles that congregate hungrily under bridges.

National Geographic's "The Best of Everything for Families" named the place as one of 10 best regional parks.

The park is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

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