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Nature in the Suburbs

Broadlands Nature Center classes, animal collection growing as it enters its second year as one of the state's only homeowner association-owned nature centers.

A year after it opened, the Broadlands Nature Center is coming into bloom.

Last week, the center was certified as a National Wildlife Federation habitat, meaning it provides food, water and shelter for animals.

The certification is the next step in Broadlands' march to becoming a NWF certified community. South Riding received its certification last year.

"There are nine in the United States," said Linda Schlosser, nature center director. "We want to be number 10."

But garnering that prestigious title is just one of the nature center's goals. The center has slowly but surely started offering more classes, bringing in more animals and raising its profile as one of Virginia's only homeowner association-owned nature centers.

Last week, the center welcomed a pair of quail. They now fill the great room with their curious chirps.

The quail add to a room that's already got a turtle, goldfish, crayfish, tadpoles and snails nestled in leafy corners. The great room has the comfortable, lofted space of a hotel lobby, and in fact served as the Broadlands sales center until last year.

Schlosser wants to add to the animal collection. She will soon welcome a rabbit.

"I want to see more animals in here, but I want them to be native Virginia animals," she said. "What you could find outside, what you could learn about in your backyard."

THAT MEANS Schlosser won't take an unwanted iguana or any other exotic creature off anyone's hands. But there is something the community can give the nature center: volunteers.

"I am looking desperately for volunteers," Schlosser, the center's only employee, said. "It's more than just teaching classes. You can take care of animals, you can take care of programming."

A cadre of volunteers already helps keep the center spic and span. Seventh-grade girls from St. Theresa regularly clean out the turtle cage.

Stacy Tanner called Schlosser up a year ago and asked what classes were available for preschoolers. At that point, just after developer Van Metre turned over the center to the Broadlands homeowners association, there were none.

So Tanner started her own. Monday morning she read to a half dozen eager preschoolers, including her own twins, took them on a hike to find birds and made sunflower seed crafts.

"They can go to the library and have a story to read," Tanner said. At the nature center, "they can participate and see things in nature."

With time and more funding, Tanner hopes the center will be able to provide even more resources to kids of all ages.

"How wonderful it could be if we had the resources here," she said. "The classes would be more enriching."

RIGHT NOW, Schlosser borrows microscopes to take people out on Pond Day, where parents and children inspect water samples from a nearby pond. She needs $600 to buy six student-proof microscopes.

As the center grows, so do its needs. But as a community center, it's neighbors like Tanner who define what happens within its walls. As she's gotten more involved, Tanner pictures a big future for the center.

"The scope, the more we talk, gets bigger and bigger because of the possibilities," she said.

Tanner envisions partnering with universities to bring student projects into the center.

But even now, in its fledgling stages, the nature center caters to nature-lovers of all ages. The fall bat class in particular has parents raving, Schlosser said.

"Parents who bring their kids expect their kids to have fun and they sit back," Schlosser said. "Every parent said, 'I didn't know that, that was so cool,'" after the bat class.

Alice Parkin, an Ashburn Farm resident, has five children between the ages of 3 and 12. All of them find something to do at the center, she said.

"The older one sat outside and read all the magazines and the other kids did the class," Parkin said. "It's really multi-functional."

CLASSES are open to Broadlands residents first and then to the public. For Schlosser, the nature center — and Broadlands' 7.5 miles of trails through a planned 150 acres of wetlands and woods upon build-out — provides an invaluable quality for suburban residents.

"It de-stresses people," she said. "It gives you a buffer between the big city hustle and bustle. You can be calm out in nature."

To learn more about the Broadlands Nature Center or to volunteer, contact Linda Schlosser at lschlosser@broadlandshoa.com.