Nature classes introduce children to fishing, ecosystems

Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2002

ESTES PARK, Colo. (AP) -- On a crescent-shaped sliver of beach along Lake Estes, 14 children stare intently at their fishing lines. The waiting game doesn't bother Alexis Frisbie, despite the clouds of bugs and oppressive morning heat.

''I like the fact that you can just sit around and that you have to learn patience,'' says the precocious 12-year-old from Estes Park, her pole arranged neatly in a makeshift holder she constructed out of stones.

Frisbie is part of ''Let's Go Fishing,'' one of a number of classes in the Wild Discovery Series sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. The group created the hands-on classes Surviving the Wild, Incredible Insects, Bird Watchers Take Flight, among others, to introduce kids to wildlife and park ecosystems.

The classes, geared to children ages 9 to 12, are from 9 a.m. to noon every Monday through Aug. 12. Each class is open to anyone living along the Front Range, with a maximum of 20 kids per class.

Fishing is one that the kids are definitely hooked on.

''You usually have to pull them away from the water when the class is ended,'' says instructor Michelle Tourville, outdoor education director for the Estes Park Center, YMCA of the Rockies.

Children lined the shore of Lake Estes on a recent Monday, some standing with their poles in hand, others resting on boulders. A grand total of two fish were hauled in by these wee anglers throughout the morning.

''When one of them hollered they caught a fish, they all dropped their rods and came running to see,'' Tourville says, laughing.

But it wasn't even about catching fish for most of these kids.

It was about being outside and enjoying nature.

''When you're tired, fishing is a good sport because you get to relax,'' says 11-year-old Patrick Burkhardt of Estes Park.

Adult chaperones patrolled the shoreline, helping kids bait their hooks with either worms or salmon eggs. At one point, Michelle's dad, Gene, walked up to a young fisherman to see if he needed more bait.

''Actually, I'm tangled,'' replied the boy, as he played with a mess that had somehow coalesced into a big ball of intertwined fishing line.

Tangles were a common occurrence, but they were handled in stride by the chaperones.

''We just volunteer because we like to do it,'' Gene, 64, says.

To hear, ''This is my first time ... I've never cast before,'' from the children warms his heart, he says.

On top of it being fun for the kids, there is an educational component in each Wild Discovery class. For ''Let's Go Fishing,'' Tourville and company provided an overview of the anatomy of a fish, discussed what bait is and why it works and gave a fly-fishing demonstration.

Each class is $15, which included, in this case, a bobber, salmon eggs, hooks and a fishing rod, all of which the kids got to keep.

''It's kind of (an) introduction to the sport,'' Michelle says.

And who knows, maybe the kids dragging their hooks behind them along the beach will be the ones teaching the class someday.


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