Sandy beaches and the ocean aren't the only examples of Mother Nature's work in southern New Jersey.

There are pinelands, wetlands, salt water, fresh water, oceans, bays, marshes, lakes and birds. And more birds.

"Many people call our region the Everglades of the North," says Randy Bauer, a docent at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.

These natural wonders can provide a fantastic experience when the kids need a break from their rigorous daily routine of running in the waves and burying themselves to their necks in sand.

Mary Tuttle, of Bucks County, Pa., was visiting the The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor for just that reason.

"The kids were starting to get rowdy from going to the beach for five straight days," says the mother of three. "Plus, my kids love nature and animals, and this place is close by. They were completely entertained by the tour."

The Wetlands Institute is just one of several child-friendly pockets of natural life that coat our coastline.

It's been two years since Stone Harbor's Bird Sanctuary reopened, and the place is still growing. The National Natural Landmark has two trails that can be accessed by the public and a third that can be viewed with docents on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Bauer leads families and children through what he calls the Harry Potter Forest (twisted sassafras trees) to the marsh where herons rest.

"We don't want to come in here and teach these kids," says Bauer. "We want them to experience it."

The Sanctuary is located at 15th Street and Second Avenue in Stone Harbor. Holly Path Tours are held 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call 609-368-7447.

The Atlantic City Aquarium is a great way to learn about the outdoors while staying indoors. If it's too hot or rainy, this is the place to be. "Dive and Dine" lets kids watch divers feed cownose rays, nurse sharks and dogfish. "The Shark and Ray Touch Tank" encourages kids to overcome their fears and pet a shark. More timid visitors can try the "Touch Tank," an exhibit that allows them to touch or hold horseshoe crabs, Bahama stars, sea urchins and hermit crabs. See the diversity of the creatures from the Indo-Pacific, mid-Atlantic Ocean, Amazon River and, locally, the Mullica River.

The Atlantic City Aquarium, located at 800 N. New Hampshire Ave., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The cost is $8 for ages 13 and older, $5 for ages 4 to 12 and free for ages 3 and younger. For more information, call 609-348-2880.

Aqua Trails at the Nature Center of Cape May combine exercise and nature. The tours allow for an intimate view of the Delaware Bay from a kayak. For instance, the Tidal Marsh Tour shows kayakers nesting ospreys, herons and egrets. The Sunset and Full Moon tours give kids a view of the changing tides and lighting.

The company offers several other tours which leave from the Nature Center of Cape May at 1600 Delaware Ave. Tours generally last 2 1/2 hours and cost $40 per kayak or $70 for a double. For more information, call 609-884-5600 or visit http://www.aquatrails.com" target= "_blank">www.aquatrails.com

The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor seamlessly blends nature and technology. It has installed a camera above the nest of a mother osprey and her babies. The high quality footage gives children an up-to-the-second look at how lucky they are not to be a baby bird.

The Institute offers 30-minute tours of the Wetlands. If docents are unavailable, a cell-phone tour is available. The Institute is located at 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard. For more information, call 609-368-1211 or visit

The Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is a great place for a day hike. The refuge, which is actually a collection of several sites along the southern New Jersey coast, is open only during daylight hours.

The refuge's Brigantine and Barnegat divisions were originally two separate refuges for migratory water birds. They were combined under the Edwin B. Forsythe name in 1984. The Brigantine Division is located along Great Creek Road in Oceanville, Galloway Township. There is a $4 per car admission fee based on the honor system. For more information, call 609-652-1665 or visit

Contact David Simpson:

609-272-7052