Kansas City, Mo. – Myla Johnson reached out and touched a large black rat snake held by a volunteer. Johnson, 6, had no fear of the snake. But she did have curiosity. Volunteers unraveled mysteries and imparted new wonders about snakes and nature for Johnson and 1,200 other youths this week at Discover Nature Field Day.
More than 1,200 youths from urban neighborhoods in the Kansas City metro area were introduced to critters, trees, fishing, canoeing, archery and target shooting with pellet guns. The annual field day was held June 25-28 at the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area at Lee’s Summit.
“This gives kids the opportunity to explore areas that they’ve never explored before, like a wetland or a hike in the woods,” said MDC Education Consultant Claudine Lamb. “This gives them something other than a video game.”
The students ranged in age from kindergarten through middle school. They were divided into age ranges and rotated through different outdoor skills or nature study stations at the lakes, meadows and woodlands at the Reed Area. The field day is a partnership between MDC, Missouri Master Naturalists, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.
One student excitedly reeled in her first fish, a small bluegill, and then she got help with the trickier problem of releasing the fish back to the lake.
“Will this hurt?” she asked.
MDC Education Specialist Shea Bergman showed her a skill to avoid sharp spines in a bluegill’s back fin.
“Comb these down and hold it like this,” Bergman said, ‘then the spines can’t hurt you.”
Most of the youths attending are participants in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kansas City or Freedom School, a literacy advocacy program.
“A lot of these kids don’t get to do anything like this except when they come here,” said Chris Wiley, a teacher for a Boys and Girls Club program in Independence. “It’s a different experience and one they will remember. Especially when they catch a fish, they know it’s doable.”
Lamb said it is very rewarding for MDC staff members and volunteers to see the children happy and laughing as they net insects in a meadow, dip minnows from lake shallows or paddle a canoe for the first time.
“I’ve had the leaders tell me that the children talk about this for the rest of the summer,” she said. “They say it’s the best field trip ever.”
For more information on MDC educational programs, or listings of conservation areas for summer visits, go to www.mdc.mo.gov.