A walk through the forest: summer programs at the Kenai Refuge

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010

If your children have come to the Refuge for a school field trip, then it is quite possible that I was their leader exploring and educating them along the Keen-Eye trail. As the education specialist at the Kenai Refuge I always joke that I have the best job at the refuge since I get to spend a lot time outside throughout the year, work with people of all ages, educating them about the wonders of the Kenai Peninsula; from dragonfly nymphs to cottonwood trees. Creating and facilitating such programs has indeed become my forte.

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Michelle Ostrowski

Almost every time I'm hiking the Keen-Eye trail with a group, inevitably when the conversation turns to talking about the "cones" that the squirrels love to cache for the winter, someone will call them "pine cones." That's when the true educator in me starts to emerge. Not only do I strive to teach about the flora and fauna in Alaska, I want to instruct on proper terminology. We don't have native pine trees on the Kenai Peninsula. These evergreen beauties are spruce trees and their cones should be referred to as "spruce cones." Now this may not seem like a big deal to most, but there are several of these common incorrect references that grate on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. My other top two are when people refer incorrectly to antlers vs. horns, and snowshoe hares vs. rabbits.

Environmental Education has been implemented at the Kenai Refuge since the 1980s. It has come a long way from the "one size fits all" school program that started back in 1983. In 2001 the Refuge got an Education Specialist position, and when our log-built Environmental Education Center opened its doors in the fall of 2006, our programs started to grow by leaps and bounds. We offer a lot more now than just school programs. Here are some of educational programs for school-age children and kids of all ages slated for summer 2010.

Critter Camp: This camp is available to students going into second or third grade this fall. We will be outdoors learning about plants and animals, their habitats, life cycles, and adaptations. The two separate sessions of this camp will occur June 21-25 (next week) and June 28-July 2 with each day starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m. Pre-registration is required and there will be a $50 session supply fee.

Get Outside and Get Dirty Summer Camp: This camp is available to students going into fourth or fifth grade this fall. The majority of the week will be spent outdoors learning about orienteering, plants, birds, fish, and other animals. The two separate sessions of this camp will occur July 12-16 and July 19-23 with each day starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m. Pre-registration is required and there will be a $75 session supply fee.

Adventure Camp: This is the newest camp, which we are piloting this year, for kids going into sixth or seventh grade this fall. It involves a lot of skill-based activities including GPS, digital photography, canoeing, biking, overnight camping, and survival skills. The two separate sessions of this camp will occur during the first two weeks of August. Pre-registration is required and there will be a $75 session supply fee.

You can find out more information or get a summer camp registration packet from the Kenai Refuge visitor information trailer at our Headquarters on Ski Hill Road in Soldotna or by e-mailing michelle_ostrowski@fws.gov.

In addition to the summer camps we will also be offering the following family activities throughout the summer.

Celebrate Wildflower Fun Day (today), Dragonfly Fun Day (July 9) and Wild Berry Fun Day (August 20): These free community special events take place at the Environmental Education Center at our Headquarters. These events will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include displays, games, craft activities, and theme inspired snacks. Guided half-mile identification walks on the Keen-Eye trail are available on Wild Flower and Wild Berry fun days. Pre-registration required for the walks only. Call Michelle at 260-2839.

Keen-Eye Trail Guided Nature Walks: Join interpretive staff on a half-mile walk at our Headquarters area each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 2 p.m. from June 23-July 31. No pre-registration required.

Centennial Trail Fitness Hikes: Get some exercise and participate in this two-mile guided hike through the Headquarters area forest and wetland habitats. Mondays July 19, 26 and August 2, 9 and 16; and Wednesdays July 7, 28, and August 18. Pre-registration required. Call Michelle at 260-2839.

Campfire Programs: Held at Hidden Lake Campground Fridays and Saturdays beginning June 25 and lasting through July, and also the Saturdays throughout August. Programs start at 8 p.m. at the amphitheater. No pre-registration required.

Guided Discovery Hikes: Hike Burney's trail at Hidden Lake campground and use your senses to learn more about the natural world. These hikes will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturdays July 10 and 17. Meet at the trailhead (across from site No. 7 on the Skyview Loop). No registration required.

So come join us for guided programs and events or get outside and enjoy your 1.97 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge this summer.

And for the record, antlers (found on moose, deer, and caribou) are made of bone and fall off each year whereas horns (found on Dall sheep, musk ox, and mountain goats) are made from keratin like our hair and fingernails and continue to grow the life of the animal. Snowshoe hares are wild in Alaska and are born with fur and their eyes open, while rabbits are born naked with their eyes closed for their first few weeks. Snowshoe hares camouflage and have large back feet to help them in the snow.

Maybe I'll see you on the Keen-Eye trail the next time I lead a group!

Michelle Ostrowski is the education specialist at the Kenai Refuge and has assisted with educational school groups and outreach since 1997. She was the 2009 recipient of the USFWS Sense of Wonder Award for Region 7. To be added to the event notification e-mail list please call or email Michelle at (907) 260-2839 or michelle_ostrowski@fws.gov.

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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge website http://kenai.fws.gov/. You can check on local birds or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline 907-262-2300.

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