One day in the year after I finished college, I met my girlfriend (now wife) Carol in the evening after work, and confessed what I had done: went for a walk in the woods with a pretty blonde, who held my hand and told me she loved me.
“Mmm. And, how old is your new crush…?” asked Carol.
As it turns out, one meets the nicest, most affectionate people working at a nature center. In that instance, a delightful 5-year-old. Perhaps not such a threatening romantic rival, after all.
I think back on those days at the nature center when I visit environmental education facilities in my wanderings today. Just south of Chariton, on busy State Highway 14, is the nature center for the Lucas County Conservation Board at Pin Oak Marsh. I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of the staff and a visiting family.
The kids were pleased to show me the minnows, panfish, several species of turtles, and other animals on display in the tanks. They excitedly explained how the animals behaved (they had been carefully observing); I enjoyed hearing them share. This one has a soft shell! He looks like a dinosaur! These kids were young naturalists, and enthusiastic.
The conservation personnel explained that this facility has offices and administrative functions, but is mainly set up to be a front door to the Pin Oak Marsh wetland. The large open room held display cases with Native American and historical artifacts to set the context. The walls were covered with taxidermy and numerous other specimens hung from the ceiling. I could see why the kids were having a great time, and it was all making quite an impression!
Programs for visitors of all ages are provided. Large windows and patio doors feature views of the marsh, beckoning visitors to take the path out for a visit. And I did, enjoying encounters with mink, great blue heron, and plenty of blackbirds.
One thing would make this perfect: yellow school buses. OK, maybe not in summer when I visited, but the naturalist told me that even during the school year they are a rare sight. Unfortunately, nowadays teachers are pressed for time (a very regimented curriculum) and money (funds for field trips have declined). Teachers I talk with, tell me they can only take one or a couple field trips all year—they must make hard choices. That means the kids generally don’t go to places like Pin Oak Marsh anymore.
So we are left with this terrific facility staffed by knowledgeable and dedicated naturalists…and not nearly enough schoolkids. May I suggest, we cannot understand and appreciate and manage our wetlands (and other natural features) if we don’t get to know them. To really know them, we should visit them. We won’t have future ecological educators and researchers, if children aren’t exposed to the wonders of wetlands early and often. I hope we can find a way to make it happen.