top of page



Tightly nestled between government buildings and the beginnings of a large tech campus in west
Raleigh is a wonderous place of 40 acres, a place where groundhogs run, pond sliders sun,
deer roam, treefrogs cling, birds feed their young, and caterpillars and butterflies abound.

  A place where trails roam a forest and a prairie and meander by ponds and vernal pools as well.

group photo.jpg

Brian Hahn is the Natural Resource Specialist at Prairie Ridge, and his responsibilities include safety and maintenance, burning the prairie, thinning the arboretum, and controlling invasive species.  Emma Blackford, as Nature PlaySpace Specialist, is responsible for early childhood programming  and the Nature PlaySpace.   Jennifer Tredway, the Citizen Science Educator, administers Citizen Science programs, writes social media posts, and collects citizen science data.  Julie Hall, as Education Coordinator, organizes school field trips, trains volunteers, and publishes a monthly eNewsletter, while Chris Goforth, head of Citizen Science for NCMNS, connects visitors throughout the Museum network to scientific research opportunities they can have as non-experts.


Interviewing the team at Prairie Ridge today is Jenny Thompson, our Regency Park Partnership Community Volunteer in the Raleigh-Crabtree Valley area, serving its more than 22,000 Nextdoor Neighbors for the RPP with notices of web-content updates, special announcements, and press releases.  Jenny is a graduate of NC State University in Raleigh, and is currently a business manager for a leading triangle area software development company.  She and her family reside in the Brookhaven Community of West Raleigh.  She asked to do this interview because she and her young children are frequent visitors to Prairie Ridge, and she wanted to help spread the word of this truly “hidden gem in the City of Raleigh”.

I want to thank all of you for taking the time from your busy schedule for this interview.  I believe that what we cover here today will be of great interest to all our readers and that many will soon experience first-hand the many things that they and their families can see and do here.

To start with, your location is very unique.   You are 6 miles from The Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh  and close to Schenk Forest  and the PNC Arena. This is really a great location for what you do, but how did all of this come about?


{Brian Hahn} Great beginning question.  In preparation for construction of the “new” downtown Museum in 2000, a different location was needed  for its wet collections.  About that same time, the Edwards Mill extension was being built, which went right through the property that NCSU pastured their cows in.  The Museum built their new wet lab on this property.  Later, it was decided that downtown Raleigh might not be the best location for nature education, and this same 40 acres would be better - Thus Prairie Ridge, with its prairie grassland, lowland arboretum, ponds, and stream was born.

It is great to have a location here that one can go to view wildlife.  What can visitors hope to see here?

{Emma Blackford}  No matter where you are at Prairie Ridge, there is the potential for wildlife sightings! One of the things I love about working here is that you never know what you’re going to see, or when you’re going to see it

I’ve taken families on walks and been surprised by Monarchs flitting by kids’ faces, and Eastern Rat Snakes letting an entire group of people get a good look at them before slithering into the grass.

Variegated Fritillary 10.25.2022.jpeg

One might see groundhogs running out of trees, or pond sliders sunning themselves on logs in the pond!  There may be White-Tailed Deer in the Arboretum, and caterpillars and butterflies in the Nature Neighborhood Garden. 


You might see Purple Martins bringing food for their chicks, or a green treefrog clinging to the stalk of a plant.

I could continue endlessly…...

Emma, it is easy to see how excited you are about the wildlife that call Prairie Ridge home.  And what a wonderful place for one to work!  Anything else you want to share?

{Emma}  Recently we found a Duckweed Firetail (Small Damselfly) at our pond – it is the second confirmed sighting in all of Wake County for this species.

And sometimes we are truly surprised by what visitors may find here.  Recently a visitor sent us photos of a North American River Otter they saw in our pond.

It appears that the sighting of the Duckweed Firetail and the photos of the River Otter were somewhat of a surprise.  With your busy schedule of events and programs, how do you ever manage to keep track of all the observations that visitors make?

Jenny, we really depend on community members to post their observations to iNaturalist, a citizen science platform that allows anyone to submit observations of something found in nature such as a plant, fungi, or animal.  Experts in these fields then help identify what was observed.

Is there any way that you can see the observations that were made at Prairie Ridge?

Yes, every observation that is submitted collated in an iNaturalist project specific to Prairie Ridge.  You can actually see these observations by going here.  With the completion of our recent Fall BioBlitz, over 1530 species have been observed on site.    


Emma, your website boasts an ambitious schedule of events.  Can you tell us about some of these, perhaps those that are your personal favorites?

One of the community’s favorites is our annual Gnome & Fairy Adventure event each spring.  It offers opportunities to learn about nature and engage your inner builder through gnome home building.

Any others?

We also have a variety of regularly scheduled early childhood programs throughout the week.  Our School-Age Programs in the form of field trips, summer camps, and Citizen Science Programs are popular.  We also have Adult Programs – from Educational Workshops to Citizen Science Programs to nature walks!


Are there any new improvements or expansions on the near horizon?

Yes there are.  The Museum is currently fundraising to help build an Education Center at Prairie Ridge. This will provide additional classroom space, allowing more programming throughout the year.  This will also provide weather-proof classroom space,  additional accessible restrooms, and office space for staff.

You mentioned fundraising to help with this.  Can you elaborate?

The Museum welcomes all donations to help build the new Education Center. Donations will go directly to support the construction and furnishing of the new facility. We plan to launch the public phase of the fundraising campaign in 2023. Anyone who is interested in supporting the new Education Center may donate here.

Let’s move onto some of your outdoor amenities, the kind of things that visitors can see and do if they are not participating in an organized program.  Can we start with your trails?

Our trails are dirt or mowed grass and alternate between flat and somewhat hilly sections.  These are designed to take you through the different habitats that make up Prairie Ridge.

Our Forest Trail winds through the forest, through the Nature PlaySpace, along the creek, and through the Native Tree Arboretum.  Walking through the Arboretum yields views of trees, many having tags to identify them. The trail goes around our pond, to the back garden, and through the demonstration prairies on site.

The other main trail is the Prairie Trail which slowly meanders through the prairie. It offers opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the prairie grasses while keeping an eye out for unexpected wildlife sightings. You can view the trail map at the entrance kiosk, or download a copy of the printable map. (PDF)

Thank you Emma.  Brian, you have overall responsibility for the grounds at Prairie Ridge.  Is there anything else we should know about?

{Brian} Well I think the Jesse P. Perry Arboretum should not be missed, as it lies in the historic flood plain of the adjoining stream.  All the trees native to a North Carolina lowland flood plain are here.  All trees are tagged with scientific and common names – a great resource for dendrology students to self-test.


Also, the cycle of the seasonal pools should be very interesting. These fill with water in the fall and winter but dry up during the summer, making them inhospitable to fish. The lack of these predators makes the pools good breeding habitats for salamanders, frogs, and a variety of invertebrates.

Passion Vine 6.24.2022.jpeg

Emma back to you again.  Earlier you mentioned that you have programs for younger children, can you elaborate?


{Emma} We have the Nature PlaySpace, an outdoor play area for young children 7 and under. This is to encourage creativity and problem-solving, and to give kids the autonomy to make choices, design experiments, and try new things.

The benefits of outdoor play and learning are numerous and evidence-based research is clear – kids (and people in general) NEED time outside. It benefits physical development, social-emotional development, increases concentration, can help alleviate ADD/ADHD symptoms in children and teens.

There is a canopy tent for imaginative play, an area to dig for fossils, an amphitheater, a mud kitchen, balls and ramps for gravity experiments, and much more.

Julie, as Prairie Ridge’s Education Coordinator, can you tell  us about your group programs?

{Julie Hall} Hi Jenny, we offer curriculum-correlated outdoor experiential programs for schools, home school groups, and scout groups. These are for groups of 8 or more, ranging from PreK – 12th grade. We can generally accommodate up to two classes per day.  Group program offerings are listed on the museum website here.


With so much to do and see here, can one take their time
and perhaps pause with a picnic at some point?

{Emma} Yes, one can definitely picnic here!  There are tables and  grassy areas, and the platforms at the pond. There is no trash service so please observe a “pack it in, pack it out” philosophy. 

I want to talk to Chris Goforth, head of Citizen Science for the NCMNS, about her contributions.  Chris, what can you tell us?

{Chris Goforth}  Part of my job is to connect visitors to scientific research opportunities they can have as non-experts.  I also oversee the Citizen Science Unit and the Museum’s overall Citizen Science Program.


What about professional researchers?

Several area researchers use our grounds to conduct research.  Recent projects included understanding how climate change impacts insects that birds rely on for food, documenting the biodiversity of native bee species, and testing Ramshorn Snails for pathogens. 

And there are opportunities for volunteers to help with research projects as well, correct?


Yes, we have had over 40 Citizen Science projects with the help of volunteers, and visitors.  These range from identifying butterflies and cloud types to documenting phenological changes and firefly flash patterns.
Citizen Science volunteers have helped with collecting and entering research data, and with larger scale events,
such as the Statewide Star Party and our annual National Moth Week evening event.


Can you tell us about a few of these citizen science projects, perhaps ones you feel were most important to you?

One was Dragonfly Detectives in 2015-2019, which introduced children to dragonfly research at Prairie Ridge, several NC State Parks, and the NC Arboretum.  They collected data for three projects, wrote up their results as a scientific poster, and optionally presented their posters at the Museum’s BugFest. 

National Moth Week, a public, drop-in evening program, encourages discovery and appreciation of moths through hands on activities, moth viewing, and connections to entomologists.  In 2020, Museum staff set up light stations at their homes so we could share moths across the state with the public through a Facebook Live event. 

Jennifer we heard you have a Citizen Science Educator program at Prairie Ridge.  Who can participate?


{Jennifer Tredway} We welcome anyone with an interest in science and a desire to participate in scientific research to become a citizen scientist with us.

Can you give us an example of this type of research?


We had a project that helped educators collect field data on bird populations.  Families watched researchers from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the Natural Sciences Museum work together, along with community volunteers.  Children asked questions while researchers held previously banded birds and recorded detailed information. The children watched in awe as the palm-sized birds flew back into the wild. 

That is very interesting.  Can you give us another example?

One of  our most popular programs is NestWatch, which studies the reproductive success of birds by monitoring resident nest boxes. One thing that participants are surprised to learn is that birds really don’t have a sense of smell, and that touching a nest would not cause the mother bird to smell humans and abandon the nestlings.

In the case of NestWatch, what happens to all the data that is accumulated?

Great question - Data is sent to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the study of bird populations and how they
are affected by climate change, habitat loss, and the replacement of native food sources with non-native or
exotic plant species.

How can one learn about upcoming programs and how to participate?

Programs are listed on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences events website, and on Prairie Ridge’s
Facebook page.   Age groups for the programs will vary, but all the information is there.  Typically there’s
no preregistration or fees for these programs, but if there are, all details are listed.  

Brian, for of those that advocate sustainable energy sources, we understand that you utilize
“Green Architecture.”  Is that correct?

{Brian}  Yes it is.  We utilize water harvesting, dual flush toilets, parallel strand lumber (Parallam), green building design, recycled materials, erosion control, photovoltaic panels, wind turbine, and

native plantings.  We not only show these to our visitors, but also present homeowner scale options that they can take advantage of.

We also feature our Nature Neighborhood Garden as an alternative to more intensive yard management techniques.   The garden was installed to demonstrate the use of sun loving plants that are not only native to North Carolina, but also attractive to both humans and wildlife.

Is parking ever an issue?

We have plenty of free parking right on-site.  But when we have overlapping events such as a Playday and  a field trip with lots of parents, we can start to fill up, and then we will direct folks into our overflow areas.


Brian,  there is a lot that goes on at Prairie Ridge, do you ever get help from volunteers?

Actually, we heavily depend on volunteers from the community.  We need assistance with maintaining the Nature Neighborhood Garden, assisting with educational programs, leading Saturday Citizen Science Programs, and collecting data for Citizen Science Projects.

Visit the Museum's volunteer page for more information and to fill out the volunteer application.  You can also sign up for our newsletter to get news and learn about events for Prairie Ridge!


This has been such an interesting and refreshing interview and to think there all of this and more nestled in between the PNC Arena, Schenck Forest, and several large state complexes.  Perhaps we can conclude with the theme of “spend a day” at Prairie Ridge.

11.22.2022 1.jpeg

{All}  If you’re visiting us as a family, you might want to start with a bathroom break in our Outdoor Classroom (a realistic but important part of any visit). We’d encourage walking across the prairie to the pond and around the edge to look for frogs and admire the multitude of dragonflies and damselflies there.


Then a stop for a snack at the pond platforms. Then walk through the Arboretum on the way to the Nature PlaySpace, keeping an eye out for rabbits, deer, snakes, and birds.


Enjoy some playtime at the Nature PlaySpace, break for lunch when kids get hungry, keep playing after lunch, or head home for naptime.

HOURS:             Open Tuesday through Saturday, 9am to 4pm (closed on Sunday and Monday).

ADDRESS:         1671 Gold Star Drive, Raleigh, NC 27607
PHONE:             919.707.8888


Nature Creators - Calling all Creators and Builders! Join us in the Nature PlaySpace as we bring out a variety of materials to create artwork, build structures, and connect with the natural world around us. Each week will look a little bit different as we utilize different materials, strive towards different goals, and bring together different creative minds. A Museum staff facilitator will be present, helping to facilitate your creative experience. Some examples of Nature Creators programs include weaving with looms, sculpting with salt dough, natural mosaics inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, natural paints made from clay and berries, building with giant blocks, etc.

Nature Play Days - Come out and play! The Nature PlaySpace will be stocked with extra special materials and supplies and a Museum play facilitator will be present to help you play your way.  Supplies may vary from week to week, but include fun things like fort-building equipment, puppets and costumes, bubbles, paint, giant blocks, and more.

Nature Stories - Join us as we open your eyes to the wonderful world of nature through a family-friendly, nature-filled storytime. We’ll begin by sharing a story in the Nature PlaySpace Amphitheater at 10:30am, and will then head to other areas of Prairie Ridge as we explore natural themes from each day’s stories in a hands-on, interactive manner. Some examples of Nature Stories activities include: blowing bubbles and tossing milkweed seeds on the wind after reading a book about wind or seed dispersal, going on a bug walk after reading a book about ladybugs, digging for worms in a dirt pile after reading a book about worms, taking a walk to the pond to see some Pond Sliders after reading a book on turtles, visiting different bird nests and nesting habitats after reading a book on bird nests, etc.

In addition, at least one “special” program is offered each month for early childhood audiences. Some past programs include “Preschoolers” at the Pond, Little Nature Hikers, Gardening for Kids, and Birds of North Carolina. We also offer additional programs during Take A Child Outside Week, celebrated annually September 24-30. 


Other activities for younger children include StoryWalks® and StoryTrails. StoryWalks are trails centered around the pages of a book, while StoryTrails are interactive trails designed in-house by Prairie Ridge staff. Both are designed to occupy young children as they go from one page to the next as they simultaneously walk along a trail and enjoy the benefits of being out in nature!

Citizen Science Programs on Wednesdays and Saturdays   Age range is 8yrs to adult.  Programs vary based on time of year, but since we are dealing with nature, no nature program is ever the same as the last one.


Nature PlaySpace - In the summer, the Nature PlaySpace is a great place to bring families as the mostly shaded space – combined with the water play area – provide a needed respite from the heat of North Carolina summers!

Some lesser known facts about the Nature PlaySpace? When designing and building the Nature PlaySpace, the plants and trees were chosen carefully for the space. Most of the plants in the space are non-toxic, may contain edible fruits, have a sensory component, or provide natural loose parts for kids to play with once they drop into the space. Hence the abundance of fruit-bearing plants (persimmons, pawpaws, blueberries, grapes), sensory plants (there are two sensory garden beds next to the mud kitchen with herbs), and loose parts-bearing plants (sweet gums, pecan trees, pine trees). Other plants may be native and provide bright colors that attract young kids (Eastern Redbud) or are good host plants for insects that kids may enjoy seeing and learning about (like the Boxelder Bugs that live on the Boxelder trees).

bottom of page