'Get outside and get dirty': Kenai National Wildlife Refuge summer camp begins today

Posted: Monday, July 20, 2009

For many kids, summer is a time to take part in camps to explore the outdoors, and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has two sessions of a summer camp geared toward not only just getting kids interested nature, but also teaching them about it.

Photo By Joseph Robertia
Photo By Joseph Robertia
A grouse stays completely still to avoid drawing in predators at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge recently. Grouse are a major food source for several carnivores on the Kenai Peninsula. The relationship between predators and prey will be discussed during an ongoing summer camp at the Refuge.

"Each day is jam-packed with hands-on activities, 99 percent of which are outdoors," said Michelle Ostrowski, refuge education specialist, regarding the "Get Outside and Get Dirty Summer Camp." The camp's first session begins today.

The camp is available to students going into fourth or fifth grade this fall, and as such, the children will be doing more intensive activities than some of the refuge's other camps geared toward younger kids.

"(Today) is plant day and there will be a lot of different games and activities to teach them about trees and plants. They'll identify, label and press 16 different types of plants," Ostrowski said.

The children will also be introduced to digital cameras and be encouraged to produce their own nature photographs. The work of Andy Goldsworthy -- an artist who uses natural and found objects, such as twigs, leaves, stones, snow and ice, as a medium -- will be used to illustrate key concepts to the kids.

Tuesday, the theme of the day is, "What Do You See," and Ostrowski said the children will be on the lookout for some often overlooked fauna and flora.

"We'll use binoculars to do some bird identification and we'll use magnifiers to look at things people might not normally see, such as lichen and insects. We'll also use dipnets down at Headquarter's Lake. The kids will learn more about insects and their ecology, and we'll have some math calculations for them to do to relate to them how far some insects can jump," she said.

Wednesday will focus on a couple of subjects, not just kids, but Alaskans should be aware of.

"We'll get into point orienteering and they'll go over maps, legends and how to use a compass. They'll use these skills on a treasure hunt. We'll also be discussing survivor skills and we'll have a first-aid station set up where we'll go over some common injury scenarios and have the kids work through them," Ostrowski said.

Thursday the kids will learn about another staple of the 49th state -- salmon.

"It will be fish day and they'll learn about fish life cycles, how salmon use scent to find their way back to their birth stream and Patti Berkhahn from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will come by to dissect fish with the kids," Ostrowski said.

In the afternoon, the discussion will turn to animal excrement as the children will take part in a scat rap and scat identification.

"We'll have replicas and riddles for them to help identify which animal left what behind," Ostrowksi said.

On Friday, the kids will learn firsthand about the complex relationships between predators and prey.

"They'll be assigned to teams and as 'prey' they try to collect food, water and shelter, while evading the 'predators,'" Ostrowski said.

There will also be a Jeopardy-style game and an Animal Olympics competition where the children will review all they have learned throughout the week, and they'll have to display skills similar to some of the animals found on the refuge.

"For example, we'll have a competition to see who can catch the most pieces of popcorn in their mouth, to illustrate how bats would feed on insects," Ostrowski said.

For those interested in enrolling their children in this summer camp, there are still a few spaces available in the first session, which runs today through July 24, and there are six open spots remaining for the second session, which runs from July 27-31.

Camps run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Pre-registration is required and there is a $75 supply fee per session.

Camp leaders, in addition to Ostrowski, include Eve Smallwood, park ranger; Betsi Oliver, refuge environmental education intern; and Te'Audra Sanders, refuge summer camp intern.

For more information on this summer camp, contact Ostrowski at 260-2839, or by e-mail at michelle_ostrowski@fws.gov.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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