Family-oriented stations in the oak-hickory forests of Edith J. Carrier Arboretum that invite children and their grown-ups to discover who makes their home here.

The host of each station is the redback salamander, a shy and tiny amphibian found in the wooded slopes of the Arboretum. Unlike other salamanders, this creature spends its entire life on land. The threshold of each station is marked with an indigenous boulder and identification plaque, offering a contextual cue to grown-ups that they are welcome to explore here. Children can search for the sculpture of their elusive host in his natural habitat (beneath rocks, in logs, etc.) at each threshold as well.

At Home in the Woods Map Overview: Little Legs Loop

Move your mouse on the numbered and lettered icons on the map below to bring up a description for phase 1 of the Little Legs Loop.
Also, descriptions for the various portions can be found below the map.

At Home in the Woods Overview Map            Twig Dig Small Crawl Logs Fungus Among Us Rock-n-Roots Decay is OK Stumpery Skunk Den Black Snake Scoot Grouse Ground Nest Puppet Play Critter Condos Stump Climb and Rock Hop Stump Climb and Rock Hop Forest Color Parade Story Ring Forest Friend Sculpture "Mist-ery" Bridge
Little Legs Loop Give Now


Nature play stations, located close to the pavilion, potty, and parking are connected by a paved path for easy use by guests in strollers. Target age range: 0-5 years

SOIL BUILDERS (phase 1):

Come explore the forest floor with us and discover who is at work to help make our soil!

f. Twig Dig

Twig Dig:

Children will search for small creatures in these dig areas as grown-ups perch on artisan toadstools and indigenous boulders at the edges. They are free to dig, imagine, and build new cities for our insect friends. It’s okay to get dirty here! A nearby portable restroom offers running water for easy cleanup.
g. Small Crawl Logs

Small Crawl Logs:

Kids will get on all fours to explore the forest floor through these natural hollowed-out logs.
h. Fungus Among Us

Fungus Among Us:

Arboretum staff and local craftsman have created a fungus garden, complete with turkeytail mushrooms and other fungii that are found on the forest floor. Grown-ups and children alike will enjoy the magic of this unusual sculpture collection.
i. Rock-n-Roots


Magnificent Shenandoah Valley boulders, cloaked in moss, and a colossal overturned rootball tell the story of how our soil is kept in place so that forests such as these can thrive. Most visitors will never have laid eyes on the exquisitely complex and powerful root system of an oak tree, and few can resist “petting” the velvety smooth coat of a moss covered boulder.
j. Decay is OK

Decay is OK:

Arboretum staff welcomes guests to explore, dig and feel the soft cool texture of a log on its way to becoming soil. They may even find an insect or two, hard at work!
k. Stumpery


Grown-ups will appreciate the staff placed snags and rocks in this created habitat. The Stumpery is where moss covered rocks and stumps become an ephemeral sculpture.


Visit the homes of the critters that live on the forest floor, and help them create new places for them to live, sleep and play.

l. Skunk Den

Skunk Den:

Children role play as a skunk kit, enjoying the kid scale of this stylized earthen-cobb play den. Nearby props of a skunk’s favorite foods show that they eat both plants and animals.
m. Black Snake Scoot

Black Snake Scoot:

Kids will shimmy and slide through the created burrow-tunnels of one of the forest’s most beneficial reptiles. Nearby sculptures of a snake’s prey and a snake climbing up a tree help children understand why the oak-hickory forest is a great place for a snake to live. They even climb trees for their dinner!
n. Grouse Ground Nest

Grouse Ground Nest:

A larger-than-life permanent depression has been created in the ground, and children help soften the nest bottom with provided leaf litter and twigs. Wooden eggs serve as play props.
o. Puppet Play

Puppet Play:

Perfect for a younger audience, a natural puppet stage and critter puppet props welcome children to put on performance for grown-ups and each other.
p. Critter Condos

Critter Condos:

Children can build miniature homes for the insects and smaller critters that live on the forest floor. Natural props, such as blocks of wood, twigs, fallen leaves, acorn caps, and hickory nut shells, are stored in adjacent cubbies to provide endless hours of imaginative play.


Children and their grown-ups who love to climb and rock-hop will enjoy this woodland shortcut, while discovering hidden forest treasures.

q. Stump Climb and Rock Hop

Stump Climb and Rock Hop:

This hillside trail invites kids to take comfortable risks by climbing and hopping from one tree stump to another, absorbing the smell, feel and patterns of these woodland building blocks without realizing there is an invaluable lesson embedded in their natural play.
r. Forest Color Parade

Forest Color Parade:

Toddlers are intrigued by color, so tucked alongside and in the trail, children search for familiar woodland hues which are expressed in artisan mosaics and sculpture. The fall color of a hickory leaf or the spring bloom of a bluebell inspires the rainbow of color that guides children along the trail.
s. Story Ring

Story Ring:

Every family welcomes quiet time, and the story ring takes advantage of this small clearing in the woods to share those stories which live in the heart of the forest. Visitors sit upon rustic wooden benches and tree stumps beneath the dappled shade of the overhead canopy.
t. Forest Friend Sculpture

Forest Friend Sculpture:

A sculpture of a woodland creature sits beneath the renovated footbridge, welcoming all who pass. Children are invited to leave gifts of the forest at his feet to thank him for his good work, while leaving treasures for the next family to find.
u. "Mist-ery" Bridge

"Mist-ery" Bridge:

The bridge is one of many planned to adorn the entire trail system at Edith J. Carrier Arboretum as part of an artful bridge exhibit, called "Bridges of the Forest." This artistically embellished bridge gives families a chance to linger and take in the view of the forest below. The bridge will also include a misting water feature, watering families and ferns alike.

At Home in the Woods, is underway for arboretum friends who wish to specifically contribute for naming opportunities of proposed new family feature gardens in the oak-hickory forests of Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, designed to be offered in phases, with gardens that will invite children and their grown-ups to discover who makes their home in the woods. Phase One gardens are now available for naming opportunities. If you are interested, please contact the arboretum's director, Jan Sievers Mahon, with the 'Give Now' button below.

Give Now

Grounds open free to the public, dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
The Arboretum offices in the Frances Plecker Ed Center are open weekdays. Calls and emails are answered from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, except holidays. Check the website calendar for holiday closings.

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University
(540) 568-3194
780 University Blvd, MSC 3705
Harrisonburg, VA 22807