July 23

Visit the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

yellow bird on tree

If you’re looking for outdoor highlights to enjoy in the McKinney area, the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary is a must-see destination. You can explore the trails, gardens, and indoor exhibits year-round. Additional activities like canoeing, garden talks, nature story times, and art and science workshops are available at various times throughout the year. Learn more about what you can experience at the Heard.

About the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

The Heard was born of Bessie Heard’s generous legacy. A lifelong philanthropist, Bessie helped establish her local American Red Cross Chapter and library. She spearheaded a tree-planting project, hosted a birdhouse contest for children on her front lawn, and was an active member of the Delphin Society, the McKinney Garden Club, and the McKinney Art Club. A woman ahead of her time, Bessie was the first woman to straddle a horse and ride a bicycle in McKinney. 

Bessie was always passionate about nature and maintained an ever-expanding collection of seashells, rocks, minerals, nature prints, and butterflies throughout her life. This eventually outgrew her home and helped inspire Bessie’s greatest project. In 1964, she started a charitable foundation and bought 207 acres of land. At the age of 80, she began construction on the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary. 

The Heard Museum opened in 1967, featuring her impressive collection of art and nature items. By the 1980s, the museum covered 25,000 square feet and included live native animals as well as exhibits on nature art and natural history. Bessie died on March 22, 1988, just a few weeks before her 102nd birthday.

The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary helped Bessie fulfill her desire to stop some of the concrete encroaching on the natural landscape that she loved so much. The sanctuary has continued to grow after her death and now sees more than 100,000 visitors each year.

Indoor Exhibits at the Heard

The indoor exhibits at the Heard Museum are designed to help visitors thoughtfully interpret natural history. Exhibits include the plesiosaur fossil dubbed “Texas Nessie,” the fossil tortoises “Tootsie” and “Peanut,” a selection of native Texas snakes, and the T-Rex of the ocean known as the Mosasaur. Visitors can explore the shell room which features many artifacts from Miss Heard’s original collection. In the Project Passenger Pigeon exhibit, you can view one of the last known specimens of the now-extinct Passenger pigeon and learn about how this species was sadly lost.

The Magic Planet exhibit allows visitors to step back and take a global look at the world. This four-foot interactive touch-screen globe can show you the earth under different conditions or even transform the globe into other planets for a fascinating comparison.

Pioneer Village

The Pioneer Village features a prairie settlement from the late 1800s, represented in a playhouse scale. Children can explore eight different buildings including settlers’ cabins, the grocery store, and the schoolhouse. The purpose of this exhibit is to help visitors reconnect with the prairie which has been greatly decimated.

The Animal Encounters Trail

On the Animal Encounters Trail, you can meet “animal ambassadors” who are non-releasable creatures that can help teach visitors about nature and develop a growing respect for these stunning citizens of our wild habitats. Animal ambassadors that currently live on the Animal Encounters Trail include the Northern raccoon, Patagonian cavy, ring-tailed lemur, white-nosed coatimundi, white-tailed deer, screech owls, sulcata tortoise, common snapping turtle, bobcat, and gray fox.

The Heard Gardens

The Heard’s Native Plant Garden features an assortment of vines, grasses, trees, shrubs, and perennials that are native to Texas. The garden demonstrates how plants can be incorporated successfully into an urban setting. The Heard even hosts an annual plant sale that will help you get started creating stunning Texas gardens of your own. 

Another popular feature of the Heard Gardens is the Native Texas Butterfly House and Garden. While the butterfly garden is open year-round, the butterfly house is a seasonal exhibit.

The Heard Sanctuary and Trails

The Heard Sanctuary is home to five distinctive habitats spread across 289 acres which include the wetlands, bottomland forest, upland forest, white rock escarpment, and Blackland Prairie. Hundreds of animals and plants call these habitats home, roaming free in their natural environments. 

More than 6.5 miles of trails cross this landscape, giving visitors ready access to all the delights of the natural sanctuary. These trails include:

  • Cedar Brake Trail: This shaded primitive trail takes you through a cedar grove. It’s just 0.6-miles in a small loop with one leg jutting off to connect with the Wood Duck Trail.
  • Wood Duck Trail: This 0.9-mile loop takes you to the Wetland Boardwalk and Bullfrog Pond. The Outdoor Classroom is on this trail as well. The Wood Duck Trail connects to the Bluestem Trail that will take you back to the Main Building.
  • Bluestem Trail: This out-and-back trail is 0.5-miles long, or one mile roundtrip. It connects to the Wood Duck Trail that can ultimately take you on a 2.5-mile jaunt out to the Cedar Brake Trail before looping back to the Main Building. On the Bluestem Trail, you’ll enjoy expansive views of the prairie. This trail is also near the Animals of the World exhibit and Butterfly House and Garden.
  • Laughlin Loop Trail: A 0.5-mile loop, this trail is ideal for jogging strollers. It’s partially shaded and easy to traverse with visitors of all ages. This trail is near the Pioneer Village, which is another favorite for small children.
  • Sycamore Trail: In deep shade, this 0.8-mile trail connects to the Hoot Owl Trail on one end and the Laughlin Loop on the other. It features the Perkins Sycamore.
  • Hoot Owl Trail: Covering 0.5 miles, this trail features bottomland and upland terrain. It takes you to the Bird’s-Eye View, Lightning Tree, and Giant Bur Oak.

Have you been to the Heard? Tell us about your visit or pass along your top tips for a successful experience at the museum and wildlife sanctuary! Contact our team at Huffines Kia McKinney and let us know what you think!

Image via Flickr by gurdonark


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