By Calie Joy Herbst Special to Published Jul 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Who knew? Havenwoods State Forest is Wisconsin’s only urban state forest, and offers over 200 acres of natural wildlife and woodlands. The Nature Center is buzzing with live reptiles, a "Books in Your Backyard" nature library, and free events for kids and families all year round.

Located just outside of Glendale off of Silver Spring Road, it is centrally located and easy to access.

Havenwoods offers free, nature-themed programming for kids on the second and third Saturday of each month. On the day I visited, volunteers were running a program called "Drop-in-on-Upcycling," featuring crafts made completely from recycled materials.

Older kids created parachutes from red Sendiks bag, constructed hovercrafts from old compact disks and played checkers on a one-of-a-kind checkerboard made from a tree trunk.

Younger kids and even toddlers filled old laundry detergent caps with dried corn and pop-tops to build noise-makers. Kids of all ages made their own lightning bug catcher from old peanut butter jars and glow-in-the-dark paint.

Perhaps most exciting for Havenwoods’ little visitors are the live animals they get to meet. The Nature Center houses toads, painted turtles, fish and garter snakes for the kids to observe and touch.

The volunteers tell me there are even wild turkeys who call this place home. This summer, the center is hosting Butterfly Quests, Bug Hunts, flower-themed arts and crafts and preschool story times, all completely free to kids and families.

In addition to their kid-friendly programming, Havenwoods lets their visitors borrow binoculars, GPS devices and backpacks to explore the land. And lest your kids explore all alone, they can bring along Smokey the Bear and wear a nifty ranger hat on their hike. Ask for their special Smokey book, filled with scavenger hunts and other activities to help guide your hike.

Organized hikes take place every first Saturday of the month at 10:30, but families are welcome year-round.

Calie Joy Herbst Special to
Calie Herbst is a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools and editor of She received a Bachelors in Spanish and Sociology from UW-Madison and a Masters of Teaching Spanish from Marquette.

She has travelled extensively through the Spanish-speaking world, but her favorite place in the world is Milwaukee. She lives in Bay View with her husband, two year old son, Hudson and her two dogs. She and her family love to check out the latest events in Milwaukee and spend time at their cabin in Winter, Wis.

In her free time, her ideal self enjoys doing yoga, reading one book a week, and cooking with organic, local foods. Her real self just ends up watching terrible reality television.