THONOTOSASSA — It’s an experience most sixth-graders in Hillsborough County’s public schools will never forget.
Their time spent viewing and studying the animals, plants and aquatic life at Nature’s Classroom, a 365-acre site along the banks of the Hillsborough River is one that keeps them coming back year after year, even as adults, often with their own children in tow.
But an invitation to the site if you’re not a sixth-grader comes just once a year, when the environmental education center is open to the public.
Saturday and Sunday (April 26 and 27) is Nature’s Classroom’s annual family-friendly open house, where from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. there will be a host of activities for “kids” of all ages.
The event is free, but there is a $5 per car parking fee at the center, located at 13100 Verges Road.
You’ll also want to have plenty of other cash on hand because there will be hamburgers, hot dogs, cold drinks and other treats for sale, plus an array of handmade items for purchase at the general store. Credit cards will not be accepted and there are no ATMs on the site.
Guests will be able to see and touch an assortment of native Florida animals and plant life, go for boat rides, explore the river’s shoreline and participate in a variety of other age-related activities. In addition, a backdrop of live music will be on tap each day.
“Come out and enjoy a beautiful day,” said site administrator Karen Folsom. “Everyone always has something positive to say about the open house and what we do here, especially the sixth-grade alumni.”
Cindy Shaw, a former resident of Valrico who now lives in Dade City, has both worked and volunteered at Nature’s Classroom, a joint project of Southwest Florida Water Management District, Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
In addition, her three children attended its three-day on-site program when they were in school.
“The open house has the whole Nature’s Classroom experience in a smaller version,” she said. “It’s fun to see the alumni come back with their kids and that’s because it’s a fabulous thing to do with your family.”
All three of Riverview resident Gina Pendergrass’s boys also attended Nature’s Classroom as sixth-graders as well as its summer program when they were youngsters.
“Every one of my kids loved it because the staff just knows so much and they make it interesting for the kids,” Pendergrass said.
Now that they’re grown, she and her husband volunteer at the open house.
“It’s so much fun,” she said.
For more information, call (813) 987-6969.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]