Classroom in the wild draws curious crowd Park volunteers share knowledge

November 08, 1992|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

Hills Grove Pavilion in Rocks State Park became a classroom in the wild for more than 50 curious adults and wide-eyed children who got to see, touch and learn about turtles, snakes and gray-horned owls yesterday.

Park Ranger Patricia Bethke and Rocks volunteers Beth Post, Jason Hutt and Erin Neal came armed with lots of questions to dispel myths and prod the audience toward a greater respect for reptiles and birds of prey.

Ms. Post, a sophomore at North Harford High School, proved a fountain of facts but cleverly allowed them to filter out only after her questions had prompted listeners at the park's Scales and Tales program to a level of curiosity that demanded answers.

Some of the youngsters from the Tiger Cub Group B Pack 265 in Jarrettsville of Baltimore County were surprisingly knowledgeable about snakes and turtles in general, but most knew little about the different kinds of reptiles shown, and fewer still knew anything about the gray-horned owl Ms. Post held on a gloved hand.

She teased her outdoor class with some general questions about the kinds of animals found in Rocks State Park. The children volunteered typical responses -- birds, deer, snakes -- before Ms. Post confronted them with a box turtle, which loves to eat worms and crickets.

Then came a painted turtle with its solar-like panels to restore energy and webbed feet for faster swimming, a mud turtle that can hold its breath for hours, a snapping turtle that's aggressive because its shell is too small to protect all of its body.

"That's why I'm holding it by the tail," said Ms. Post. "It has a very long neck and can reach back and bite your fingers very easily if it feels threatened."

Mr. Hutt, also a North Harford sophomore, explained why bog turtles are endangered.

"Bogs like White Marsh are drained to build shopping centers and buildings, and the bog turtles are losing their homes so fast, they're becoming extinct," he said.

The spectators' anxiety increased when Ms. Neal, a sophomore at Fallston High, pulled snakes from cloth bags.

Ms. Post first feigned fear of the snakes and ran off a string of cliches, all exaggerations or untruths.

"They are not all 20 feet long, slimy and poisonous," she finally told her audience.

The black racer is aggressive and will strike repeatedly, but the ,, black rat snake with its white underbelly is pretty harmless, she said.

Poisonous snakes are distinguishable by their diamond-shaped heads. Copperheads are found in the Harford County area, but the state's only other poisonous snake, the timber rattler, is found in Western Maryland.

"Snakes are gross," said 6-year-old Matthew Cellini, the first to arrive at the pavilion with his uncle, Bryan Prietz. "I wanted to see the owl fly."

The gray-horned owl Ms. Post showed her audience is blind, a victim of a tractor-trailer on Interstate 70.

"He hurt his wing and had a bad head injury," she said.

"We were able to nurse him back to good health except for his eyesight. If we let him loose in the wild, he could not survive."

Matthew Desaulniers, 6, said he had seen gray-horned owls before when his family traveled to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.

"I like owls better than snakes," he said.

Donations cover all the costs for the animal care, said Ms. Post, a veteran of 30 Scales and Tales demonstrations.

"The volunteers do it all," said Ranger Bethke.

"It's part of the Outreach Program our volunteers do for schools and senior citizen groups."

"I saw an ad in the newspaper for volunteers about a year and a half ago," Ms. Post said.

"I went to a meeting and kept going back."

Meetings for volunteers are the first Monday evening of each month at 7:30 in the Rocks State Park office. Anyone is welcome.

The next park event, Park Trek, is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 2 p.m.

It's a two-hour hike beginning and ending at the Hills Grove picnic area.

"It's a mixture of hiking and history," said Ranger Bethke. "We'll head up to the King and Queen seat [a rock formation on a cliff], but stop along the way to do presentations on the old historical areas such as the grange iron furnace and the old mill."

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