As Becky Newman, museum program director of Earthplace, was walking along the swamp loop trail with the two other hikers she was guiding, she warned them not to step off the footbridge and into the snow.

"Although it looks nice and snowy, it's kind of mucky," she said, and then emphasized to the youngest hiker, "and it would be cold."

On that bridge, she asked them to stop for a moment. The crunching of the fresh snow ceased when the group halted.

"Listen," she told Torin Pfeiffer, a 4-year-old from Southport, who was accompanied by his mother, Cari.

There was silence. Far in the distance, it sounded like some children were playfully shouting. With students having the week off from school, this was a likely possibility, but that's not what Newman was listening for.

The faint yelling continued. Newman, and especially Torin, listened intently. Nothing else could be heard.

"I think I heard a robin earlier," Newman told them.

No bird piped up that moment, but the nature walk -- one of the many programs that Earthplace: The Nature Discovery Center offers -- was just beginning. There was still much to see and plenty to do. Already, some squirrel and dog tracks were spotted. Later, the secret of where frogs go in the winter was answered, as was the identity of the critter that takes over birdfeeders when their intended inhabitants fly south for the winter.

On that walk, Newman was only hosting the two Pfeiffers. It was a low turnout, but a change of pace from the crowds earlier that morning. Nearly 50 kids showed up to for the "meet a critter" program in which Newman showed off one of the many inhabitants at Earthplace. Some of the highlights housed by the nonprofit organization include a massive Burmese python, a turkey vulture and a shaggy-haired guinea pig named Puff.

With students off from school for the week, Earthplace is one of the local destinations where parents come to keep their kids occupied, and educated. There are a couple of different programs each day and year-long memberships start at $25, while daily admissions start at $5 for children.

"We've had a lot of families out and about," said Newman.

Newman calls Earthplace one of the best-kept secrets in town, even though it's been around for 51 years. Cari agrees. Her son celebrated his fourth birthday at Earthplace and her older son attends a summer camp that's hosted by the organization.

"You know what? It is [the best kept secret]," Cari said. "I talk to people and they say, `What is it?'"

The three miles of trails surrounding the building on Woodside Lane are open to the public free of charge. On Wednesday, a pair of cross country skiers were gliding across the snow as Newman and the Pfeiffer family trekked through the path.

A bird house was passed, and Newman pointed out that mice live there in the winter. A short distance later, Torin completed a rubbing of a beech tree by using a crayon against paper placed on the bark.

At a bridge overlooking a pond, the group stopped for a short while. In the spring and summer, frogs populate the water, although no fish inhabit the water. Now, it was merely a slushy mix.

"What happens to the frogs in the winter?" Newman asked Torin.

Torin wasn't sure, but he smiled in anticipation of the answer.

"They're still in the pond," she said. "They're sleeping at the bottom in the muck."

Torin continued smiling with quiet curiousity, and the trek started up and entered it's final stretch. Cari would sometimes carry him since the weather was cold, the snow was wet and Torin grew tired.

"Do you want to go home and have some hot cocoa?" Cari asked her son.

"Yes," he replied.