Feature Article - October 2003
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Call of the Wild

From beautiful blossoms to bugs and guts, nature programs are growing as people return to their roots

By Margaret Ahrweiler


BIG KIDS: A TOUGH SELL
PHOTO COURTESY OF WHEATON PARK DISTRICT

While preschoolers and families make easy targets for nature programs, Joslin notes that reaching out to older children and teens poses more of a challenge, as nature takes a back seat to team sports. To fill that gap, innovative programs can reel that fickle crowd back into the woods.

How, for example, can soccer compete with the chance to handle buffalo guts? That's one of the program highlights at Custer State Park in Custer, S.D., as more than 1,200 middle-school students participate in programs related to the park's annual buffalo round-up each year. According to Bradley Block, Custer's chief of interpretation, the wide-ranging buffalo program with a number of different stations can entice middle schoolers to drop their veneer of cool. In one area, the students examine picnic tables laden with buffalo parts—stomach, feet, horns, bladders—and match them up with products similar to those that Native Americans might have made out of those pieces of buffalo. At another spot, students pile onto a truck scale to figure our how many people would equal the weight of one bull buffalo. And elsewhere, park staff clock students' fastest sprints to see if they can match the top speed of a running buffalo (since the beasts can hit 39 mph, Block hasn't found a kid who can match it yet.) Those same kids can often be seen later in the year bringing their families back to the park, which boasts around 73,000 acres and a standing herd of 1,500 buffalo.

  
PHOTOS COURTESY OF WILLOWBROOK WILDLIFE CENTER


BEYOND BIRD WALKS

Much of the nature programming found today is fairly straightforward, with guided hikes and bird-watching treks among the most popular. But naturalists' creativity is no longer limited to their presentations, with the growth of programs that bring nature to the public in decidedly different ways.

HERE ARE A FEW OF THE MORE UNUSUAL OFFERINGS OUT THERE:

From Florida's state parks:
  • 1876 Cow Camp—step back in history and learn the life of a Florida cowhunter.
  • Doctors, Lawyers and Weekend Warriors Surf event—competition for surfers who may be over the hill but not out of the picture
From the Johnson County, Kan., Parks and Recreation Department:
  • Beginning fly casting
  • Galyan's Outdoor Skills Day—take the call of the wild test and learn survival and safety tips. Test primitive hunting tools, archery, fire-building techniques
  • Survival hike: Do you have the right stuff?