Meanderings

Neuseway Nature Center ranked 18th most popular field trip destination in NC (via Kinston Free Press).

One of the state’s best field trip destinations is in our own backyard.

The Neuseway Nature Center was recently honored as one of the top field trip destinations for the 2009-2010 school year. According to the annual survey conducted by Carolina Field Trips Magazine, the park ranked No. 18 in its list of the top 25 locations in North Carolina.

The park, which began its 15th year of operation in June, has evolved from just a campground and nature center to a destination for nearly 30,000 North Carolina students.

The Nature Center beat out destinations including Linville Caverns, Battleship North Carolina and the N.C. Museum of Art in the number of students visiting on field trips. Dan Nicholas Park in Salisbury ranked No. 1 last year with over 126,000 field trip visitors.

Bobby Cox has been Neuseway’s naturalist since 1996. He said the park offers a lot of different things for field trips, including an inexpensive learning experience.

“We’re one of the cheapest planetariums in (North Carolina) you can go to,” Cox said. “Our cave exhibit downstairs in the nature center is pretty much one of a kind. We’re constantly adding exhibits.”

The park charges $1 per child for each activity during the field trip. Park officials said teachers are allowed in free and the average price is only $3 per child per trip.

The planetarium offers shows designed to follow the state’s curriculum guidelines for the third, sixth and ninth grades, as well as custom shows.   

In addition to the planetarium and cave exhibit, the park includes a train ride — the Big Daddy Express — and playground, as well as several science exhibits. A campground is also available for overnight guests.

Planetarium Director Cindy Bingham said schools have to sign up pretty early in order to reserve a date to visit the nature park — the park is already booked for October and most of November. She added every second grade student in Lenoir County will visit at some point during the school year.

“Teachers have to have a purpose for their trips. They have to meet objectives. Our site allows them fulfill those,” Bingham said. “I think we draw a lot of folks in Eastern North Carolina, especially with budget cutbacks, because we’re closer than Raleigh.”

Bingham said the park is busy with field trips year round. She added summer can be one of the busiest times of the year, with several summer camps visiting each week.

Nature center staff can handle between 70 and 80 children at a time. But Cox said there were days where over 250 people would cycle through.

Park officials reported 8,200 groups visited the park from 13 counties last year — from as far away as Greensboro.

Plans to continue expanding the nature park include an exhibit on fossils found in Eastern N.C.

“It’s probably going to be an impulsive thing,” Cox said of the park’s growth. “When we come up with an idea, if our director approves it, then we go with it.”

Justin Hill can be reached at 252-559-1078 or jhill@freedomenc.com.

Breakout box:

Neuseway Nature Park hours

Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Planetarium Shows

Tuesday – Friday 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Saturday – 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Sunday – 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Call 252-939-3302 for more information

Kudos to Bobby Cox and Cindy Bingham (my wife!) for their work at putting this 15 year old park on the map!