In order to feature more family-friendly spots on Go West Young Mom, several women volunteered to help me review a number of indoor play options that had been on my list but I just hadn’t gotten a chance to write about yet. They are each using a standard questionnaire — plus sharing their own personal experiences — to help make it easy for you to decide if the spot is a good fit for your family. First up, Dawn Santucci tells us about the Creek Bend Nature Center in St. Charles. It’s a place her family has visited often. You’ll find lots more indoor play options here.
Name and address:
Creek Bend Nature Center is located in LeRoy Oaks Forest Preserve at 37W700 Dean Street, just west of Randall Road in St. Charles. It is owned and operated by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. The nature center just opened in 2013.
Q. Is there ample parking? Can you park close?
Yes and yes.
Q. How much does it cost?
Nothing! Admission is free.
Q. When is it open?
Monday-Thursday 10-4; Saturday & Sunday 12-4. It is closed Friday, but approximately once a month the St. Charles library holds story time there on Friday mornings.
Q. When is the best time to go? When it is the least crowded?
I’ve never experienced extreme crowds. Occasionally local mom’s groups will hold meetings or playdates there, which ups the number of people slightly, but there is plenty of space. It seems that during the week most people go before lunch. I’ve visited several times. There have been occasions where it was only my kids and me. Usually there are just two or three other families. The most crowded I ever experienced (aside from the grand opening event) was when two separate mom’s groups were having meetings simultaneously and there were approximately 20 families present.
Q. Are there public bathrooms? Is there a changing table?
Yes, clean public bathrooms with a changing table.
Q. Is there a private space to nurse?
Nothing designated, but there are a couple nooks where one could find some privacy.
Q. What was your child’s favorite part of the play area? Least favorite?
My daughter’s favorite things are the animal puppets, the cut up tree branches that serve as building blocks, and creating art with the crayons and stamps. My toddler son loves playing with the toys and just running around. They are a little young to appreciate all of the educational aspects and learning at the exhibits.
Q. What was your favorite part? Least favorite?
I like that it is a safe, open space where the kids can play and explore. I do not have a least favorite part.
Q. Is it clean?
Q. Was the staff friendly and attentive?
Typically there is only one person sitting at the front desk. This person greets you and provides information if asked, but usually keeps to him/herself.
Q. Are you allowed to bring in outside food and drink? Is there a designated snack area? Is food sold there?
I never saw a sign that said not to eat, but I would imagine breaking out a full lunch inside the nature center would be frowned upon. In nicer weather you can eat outside. There are drinking fountains, but food is not served there.
Q. What ages to you feel this play area is best for?
There are exhibits and activities that appeal to all ages of children, and even adults too. Teenagers might become bored quickly, but they probably could learn some things if they explored and read some of the material.
Q. Is there a designated area for babies/toddlers?
Not specifically, but there is a play mat area with lots of toys, puzzles, and books nearby. It is not closed off from the rest of the area.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your family’s experience?
The Creek Bend Nature Center is part of the LeRoy Oaks Forest Preserve in St. Charles. The nature center itself houses a number of educational displays and exhibits that will interest people of all ages. There are many hands-on artifacts that children can touch, like animal furs or horns, rocks, shells, and feathers. There is a play area that includes puppets, blocks, books, and puzzles, as well as a table where children can color and use stamps. The space is not too large and is mostly open so it is easy to keep an eye on wandering kids.
With warmer weather, Leroy Oaks is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. The grounds immediately outside of the nature center include a prairie and a creek. There is ample space (and picnic tables) to have a picnic and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There are several huge, beautiful trees that provide plenty of shade. Kids love to walk down to the creek and wade around or throw rocks. The other side of the preserve includes walking and bike trails, as well as horseback riding trails (Leroy Oaks serves as the trailhead for the Great Western Trail).
There are also several historic buildings, including the Durant House Museum, the Pioneer Sholes School, and an old red barn. They are open to the public limited times during the year, but you can make reservations for tours. Two times every August the Durant House hosts pickling parties. This is a wonderful time to visit because people are dressed in period clothing; you can tour the house and school, take part in traditional games and activities out on the lawn, and make pickles that are delicious!
Finally, the Kane County Forest Preserve offers a number of programs and guided nature hikes at Creek Bend throughout the year, usually for a nominal fee. There is plenty to see and do at Creek Bend/Leroy Oaks, and it is a place that my family loves and highly recommends to everyone!
About the Author: Dawn lives in St. Charles with her husband and two children.