From bat conservation to fire safety, kids who attended the Shawnee National Forest's ArborWild event learned all kinds of things about Southern Illinois wildlife and history. The free outdoor education program was held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday.
There was a variety of hands-on stations set up for kids that were both fun and educational.
“Every kid has a favorite area,” said Amanda Patrick, public affairs officer for the Shawnee National Forest. “They're really enjoying it.”
One station taught kids about bat conservation, while another allowed children to try American Indian rock painting as they learned about historical rock art sites in Southern Illinois, such as Millstone Bluff. Kids also learned about the importance of being environmentally conscious.
Patrick said the event was a great opportunity for families to spend time together.
“They're going around to the stations as families,” she said. “That's one of the best parts.”
The station set up by the U.S. Forest Service's wildland firefighters was a favorite among the children. Kids first learned about the safety gear used by the firefighters.
“When we go out to the woods, we have to protect ourselves,” fire engine operator Greg Burkhart told the kids.
Kids tried on some of the firefighters' gear and even tested their handheld radios. They were then allowed to climb into the fire engine and try out the lights and sirens on the truck. The kids had the most fun when they were allowed to spray water out of the hose.
Playing on the fire engine may have even been fun enough to help one kid, Zachary Parker, make a serious career choice.
“When I grow up, I want to be like you!” Parker told the firefighters.
Forest Service staff seemed just as excited as the kids to be involved in the event.
Patrick has said research has shown there is a growing disconnect between children and nature and they want to do whatever they can to bring kids back to their natural roots.
“More than ever, events like ArborWild are so crucial,” she has said. “Nature really is good for us holistically. We're really excited and proud to be doing this.”
Stewart receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.