MOUNT LAUREL – You can walk with the animals, talk with the animals.
A popular nature center reopened on Wednesday under new management and with a new name.
Paws Discovery Farm, formerly known as Paws Farm Nature Center, officially opened its doors following two months of renovations and improvements.
Improvements, which include a petting zoo, were made to the animal environments and enclosures as well as to all the exhibits at Paws, which reached a three-year agreement a few months ago to be managed by Garden State Discovery Museum.
Mini horse, pony in sneakers make nursing home calls
“We have an aligned mission,” Garden State Discovery Museum Director Kelly Lyons said. “That was probably one of the biggest draws for us. The proximity to the museum was perfect. It wasn’t too close, it wasn’t too far, and it offered something in an outdoor way that the museum didn’t so we felt like it was a really good complement.
“We have upgraded a lot of the exhibits in here. They had a lot of great stuff here. We sort of gave it a little shine and added a few things, added some museum expertise to it.”
The township retained ownership of Paws under the agreement, while the Cherry Hill-based Garden State Discovery Museum took over the aspects of managing the Paws facility at 1105 Hainesport-Mount Laurel Road.
“We believe it’s a home run for Mount Laurel,” deputy Mayor Rich Van Noord said. “We’ve always considered this a gem of town. When you want to enhance the experience for the children of Mount Laurel, you bring in people who know what they’re doing. The Discovery Museum was just a natural partnership.”
Recent improvements also include adding party rooms, reorganizing the facility flow, cleaning trails, improving outdoor play and adding a large nature/toy store.
Lyons added that animal shows and interactive encounters with theater players will help enhance the visitor experience and additional animals will be brought to the site.
The renovated facility will offer expanded hours. Paws was open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but will now be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the week with the possibility for additional hours depending on the season. General admission is $10, or $9 for grandparents. Mount Laurel residents pay $6, while children under 12 months are free.
“It’s great,” said Mount Laurel Township Clerk/CFO Meredith Tomczyk. “They’ve done so many improvements to the facility. They’re bringing in more animals, more vendors. They’ve been able to do that where the price hasn’t increased at all for Mount Laurel residents.”
Paws offers indoor and outdoor adventure opportunities, story hours, animal programs, scheduled classes, birthday party opportunities, a petting zoo, which is under development, and other special events year round.
There are interactive exhibits and also more than nine acres of farmland with more than 100 animals that visitors can meet and greet. Guests can also walk nature trails, explore gardens and learn about local wildlife and more.
Ruth Tatz of Moorestown was on hand on Wednesday with her 3-year-old grandson Emmett, whose family lives in Mount Laurel. He wakes up in the morning and asks to see the animals, Tatz said.
“In the summer, spring, fall we’re here almost weekly,” she said, watching her grandson play in the discovery farm. “It’s very, very nice. We’re very pleased that they’re keeping it the way it was but enhancing it.”
Paws has an emu named Curly, two Scottish Highland cattle, three miniature horses, two miniature donkeys, four alpacas, chickens, goats, pigs, a peacock, red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture, screech owl and more. A white farmhouse on the property is being renovated and is filled with reptiles.
“I take care of all the animals here on the property,” Paws employee Paisley LeMire said with a grin. “They love the kids, they love the attention.”
LeMire said she’s gotten to see the place go through the transformation over the last few months.
“Since the Garden State Discovery Museum has taken it over, we’ve given the outside a facelift, the entire vision of the place has taken a nice direction,” she said. “A lot more focus on the education, the animals, while also the entertainment as well. Kind of edutainment.”