My 7-year-old daughter is often eager to play at the park or ride her scooter even when the weather is not cooperating, and my 2-year-old son is more than ready to toddle after her.

Consequently, my wife and I stay on the lookout for new ways for our children to burn off their energy during the winter. We have taken them to Isaak’s Family Fun Center, the public library children’s area, and other indoor attractions in our Mattoon hometown on more than a few occasions.

This winter, we added a couple of indoor attractions to our itinerary that are a bit farther from home — Rock Springs Nature Center in Decatur and the Sullivan Civic Center public swimming pool in Sullivan.

Rock Springs Nature Center

Douglas-Hart Nature Center in Mattoon has long been one of my family’s go-to places when the weather is cold or rainy. Our daughter enjoys the Discovery Den children’s activities and the exhibits of live animals in this site’s visitor center.

My curiosity about other nature centers in our region led to us to stopping at the Rock Springs Conservation Area and Nature Center last month. This 1,343-acre area is located off of Illinois Route 48 in southwest Decatur, not far north from the Elwin Road shortcut that we use on the way to and from Springfield.

The Rock Springs Nature Center, which is part of the Macon County Conservation District, sits in a sloping, tree-screened space that is connected to the main parking lot by a short foot path and a small wooden bridge.

Soon after we entered the front door, our daughter was drawn to aquarium tanks containing native amphibians, reptiles and fish. We were amazed to see that one of the soft shelled turtles can stretch its neck out far enough to reach its tail.

We saw that the site’s Ecocenter museum features interactive exhibits designed to help children learn about Macon County natural history and science in general. Our daughter was fascinated by a set of oversized horseshoe-shaped magnets, through which she felt their power to attract and repel each other.

One of my favorite sections of the nature center is the Window on Wildlife, a wide window that overlooks the bird feeders in the woods below. Visitors can relax on benches there while watching birds, plus squirrels, eat and listening to the sounds of nature through amplified speakers.

I also was pleasantly surprised to find that the nature center houses a Bluestem Theater movie screening room that plays short films at the touch of a button. The current lineup includes “Exploring the Outdoors,” “Abraham Lincoln in Macon County,” and “Biodiversity of Illinois.” The center also hosts an art gallery.

As we left the nature center, I made a mental note to return during warmer weather to visit some of the conservation area’s outdoor attractions. Rock Springs includes a restored mid-1800s farm house, a playground and picnic area, and nearly nine miles of trails, including one along the Sangamon River.

Sullivan Civic Center

My family and I enjoy swimming throughout the year, a pursuit that has taken us to indoor pools at the Mattoon YMCA and at local hotels fall through spring. For some reason, we overlooked the indoor pool at the Sullivan Civic Center until recently. I have to say I am sorry that I did not try this pool sooner.

The spacious main pool in the city-owned civic center offers plenty of room for swimmers to spread out, and there is a separate wading pool for young children. Some of the amenities at the main pool include a pair of small slides for children and diving boards.

I was pleased by the warmth of the water in both the main and wading pools, after having gotten cold chills at some indoor pools while on the road. I also was pleased by the price, $8, for our family of four to swim there.

The civic center, located next to Wyman Park, has a regular schedule of public swimming hours. The schedule and admission price information are posted at This facility also houses a gym, fitness equipment area, and racquetball court.

This column and previous entries in the series can be found online at

Contact Stroud at or 217-238-6861.