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Free Family Fun in Dayton: Glen Helen Raptor Center

All around the Dayton area, there are pockets of wildlife conservation and learning centers that could, frankly, add up to a whole zoo. One such spot exists east of town, where bald eagles, vultures, owls and more can be observed for the enticing price of free.The Glen Helen Raptor Center lies just outside of Yellow Springs, a short jaunt from the artsy downtown district.

All around the Dayton area, there are pockets of wildlife conservation and learning centers that could, frankly, add up to a whole zoo. One such spot exists eas
All around the Dayton area, there are pockets of wildlife conservation and learning centers that could, frankly, add up to a whole zoo. One such spot exists eas
Rain Blanken
A barn owl says hello from The Glen Helen Raptor Center
Rain Blanken

The Raptor Center is a place for second chances. Birds who are injured in wild and urban areas are brought to the Raptor Center so that they can get the therapy and care they need to recover. This is a great opportunity to talk to kids about our responsibility to care for wildlife and have compassion for the sick and injured.

Along the short path of birds on display, you will see placards in front with information on each bird. There are only fifteen birds out to look at, so get the most out of your trip, take the time to read each placard. Here you will find out the birds name, how they were injured, and a bit about their personalities. This information makes the trip a much more intimate experience than you will find at a zoo, and the kids usually find a connection with at least one of the birds through their stories.

Birds you will see include barred owls, red tailed hawks, vultures, barn owls, screech owls, and of course, Solo, the bald eagle with only one wing. Bring a camera, as many of the owls are people friendly and ready to pose.

The center also provides education for school and college groups through many programs that teach about raptor birds. It is a great place to visit if your children are studying birds, food chains, habitats or nocturnal animals in school.

Warnings: These are all birds of prey, so expect to see your share of dead mice for the day. If you are lucky, you will see one of the birds having a snack. Lots of kids think this is the coolest part!

Hours: Summer: 9 am to 7 pm, Spring and Fall: 9 am to 6 pm, Winter: 9 am to 5 pm

Price: Totally Free! There is a donation box on the information sign out front. I would encourage you to give each child a quarter or a dollar after viewing the birds. Kids get a great sense of satisfaction when they believe they are helping out the animals they just spent some time with. Talk to them about how their donation will help buy the birds medical care and lots of mice to munch.

Where to Park: Finding the Raptor Center was the trickiest part of the trip. It is located on Route 343, recognizable by the park entrance sign on the right (coming from Dayton). However, there are only a few parking spots at the Raptor Center itself. You can most often score a spot on a drizzly day, but your chances of getting out of the car are better if you park at the Corry St. entrance of Glen Helen, and take a short hike over to the Raptor Center. There is an education center at the Corry St. parking lot where you can peruse the park map to plot your course, or ask a volunteer for directions. Glen Helen is beautiful, so I recommend working a short hike into your trip.

Planning a Day Trip: It will only take around a half hour to see all of the birds. This makes The Raptor Center a great addition to a day of enjoying the Yellow Spring area.

The Raptor Center is part of the Glen Helen park. This park is home to a bubbling stream, waterfalls and lots of nature. The kids were eager to see the birds, so we stopped at the Raptor Center first. This gets the anticipation out of the way and gives the kids lots to talk about as we continued a hike afterward. We strapped a Camel Back to Dad and packed seeds, dried fruit and cracker snacks to keep the kids tromping through the woods. Pack a picnic lunch with everyone's favorites for a mid-day break near the Corry St. entrance.

Yellow Springs is a great place to visit, but be sure to warn your wallet. If you are looking to keep this trip free, I recommend having a talk with the kids about purchases, or saving a trip through downtown for another day. If you didn't pack a picnic lunch, Subway and Ha Ha Pizza are inexpensive options that are close to the Corry St. entrance.

Youngs Dairy is also nearby, and here you can get another dose of free animals and inexpensive entertainment. Here the kids will be tempted to get an ice cream. I like to think that the money saved on the picnic lunch could be wisely invested in some frozen treats!

Special Events: The Raptor Center takes part in special camp programs and bird release events. Check out what is happening at the official Special Events section of The Raptor Center website.

For more information: To help plan your visit, check out the Glen Helen Raptor Center website.

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