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Charlotte, NC- The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department invites the community to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax with family activities each weekend through September at McDowell Nature Center and Preserve. The activities are part of a series called “The Great Urban Escape,” and include: Playing with Fire, Family Campfire, Nature at Night Hayrides, Messy by Nature, Live Animal Talks and Family Kayak Tours.

Activities kick off each Friday night at 6:30 p.m. with Playing with Fire at the McDowell Campground fire pit. Learn a lifesaving technique of starting a “matchless” fire. Afterwards, hang out around the campfire, sing songs, play games, listen to stories and eat s’mores. A limited seating Nature at Night Hayride departs at 8:15 p.m. from the campfire. Hayrides cost $1 a person and requires pre-registration. Registration is not required for the campfire.

Live Animal Talks are offered each Saturday and Sunday. Talks on Saturday are from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Get dirty with Messy by Nature from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday, with a variety of messy crafts outside the Nature Center. Family Kayak Tours launch from the waterfront deck area each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and each Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Ages 5 and older may participate and the cost is $15 per single boat and $20 for a tandem. Children ages 5 to 9 are required to share a tandem kayak with an adult. Space is limited and advance registration is required. No registration is required for Animal Talk and Messy by Nature activities.

Bring a picnic and spend the day or make it a weekend and camp in the only public campground in Mecklenburg County. RV, pull-through and tent sites are available. A limited number of rent-a-tent sites are also available. Call the Campground office at 704-583-1284 to make your reservation.

McDowell Nature Preserve, located on Lake Wylie in southwest Mecklenburg, protects over 1,100 acres of natural habitat and prairie, with a Nature Center and seven miles of hiking trails. Admission to the Preserve and Nature Center are free. The Preserve is open from 7 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. The Nature Center is open Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 704-588-5224 for more information or to register for events.