At Prescott-Area Nature Center, a Chance to Connect With the Wild

Highlands Center for Natural History | Kirsten Kraklio

Surrounded by ponderosa pines in the Prescott National Forest sits the Highlands Center for Natural History. The nonprofit organization, originally named the Community Nature Center, has served the residents of Central Arizona since 1996.

While the facility has changed — it’s now Prescott's and Yavapai County’s first LEED Gold-certified building — the mission to educate and create an interest in nature has not.

“It’s all about wonder, discover, explore — and getting, especially kids, outside to help their lives for the better,” said Lesley Alward, past president and current chairwoman of the center's Wander the Wild Committee.

The 80-acre campus near Lynx Lake allows the organization to offer community events and educational programs year-round. The Discovery Gardens, which opened in June, offer children and their families a chance to experience native plants while learning about animals and insects at discovery stations set up along the path. The center also built a play area where children can climb logs and play in a sand pit.

“It brings out their curiosity and their imagination; they’ll play for hours,” Alward said.

The center depends on donations and fundraising to support its community and educational programs, and one of its most important events, the annual Wander the Wild live auction and dinner, is coming up soon. Slated for Sunday, September 24, the ninth annual event will feature live music, local wines and appetizers, a live auction and dinner. Auction offerings include outdoor-related travel and adventure packages, educational field trips and nature-inspired artwork by local artists. 

The premier event helps enable more than 5,000 preschool and elementary-school children to visit each year and spend a day in nature through field trips and other educational programs.

“Some kids have never been ‘in the wild’ before, and there’s a certain level of fear around that,” Alward said. The center’s naturalist-led walks and programs help to teach kids how to identify plants and animals and become “wise stewards,” she said.

In addition to the Discovery Gardens and play area, the campus also has about 3 miles of trails available to the public. Along the way, hikers can find an outdoor classroom where children are taught and allowed to journal about what they see and hear.

“We want kids to disconnect and be here,” Alward said.

To purchase tickets to this year’s Wander the Wild event or learn more about the Highlands Center for Natural History, visit its website or call 928-776-9550.

— Kirsten Kraklio

All photos by Kirsten Kraklio.


An appreciation of nature forms new respects toward it, a fascinating introduction to it can open awarenesses deeper into being a part of the place we're a portion of. Thank you for your investment, and many happy returns. :-)

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