Students learn art of tracking Piney Run Park is the site of fun SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

April 06, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Seven intrepid trackers trekked fearlessly into the woods, searching the forest floor for evidence of wild animals. One 9-year-old boy wondered if they might spot a cougar's trail.

Their guide laughed and said beaver, mice, deer or squirrel would be more likely.

"This bark has just been chewed," said Mike Cobb, 9, as he examined a tree at Piney Run Park. "That's a sign of beaver."

Deanna Hofmann, Piney Run's naturalist and leader of Thursday's trek, said the beavers probably are spending every morning and evening dining on bark.

With freshly chewed trees all along the lake shore, the boys all hoped to see the real thing.

"Look, guys, it's a beaver swimming out on the lake," shouted Cody Haslup, 10.

"That's no beaver," said Chuck Kistler, 10. "It's just a stick poking through the water."

Still, the trackers persevered. They trekked with eyes glued to the ground searching for fresh tracks on the muddy trails and banks.

"Step around if you see any neat ones. Don't squish the tracks," Ms. Hofmann said.

"Here's a trail!" shouted Chuck. But the mark was his April Fools trick on the other searchers.

"I saw you make those," Cody said. "That's a Chuck trail."

The environmentally aware group collected discarded fishing line, which is harmful to the ducks and geese that inhabit the lake.

"People shouldn't leave litter," said Will Kistler, Chuck's 8-year-old brother. He deposited several bottles in the park's recycling bins.

The trackers found no wild animal footprints, but they identified a large dog's paw marks along the stream bed.

"He was looking for something," Will decided. "Maybe a fresh fish."

Craig Sieminski, 9, would have made his English teacher proud. "Hey, the park spelled trail wrong," he said pointing to the "Indian Trial" marker. Ms. Hofmann promised to fix the error.

In the absence of tracks, the hikers nevertheless discovered many clues to prove animals were about in the area. Old corn cobs, broken twigs and bark removed from trees all are signs that mean deer, squirrels and many other animals are active in the park, said Ms. Hofmann.

"Let's leave the things here for the animals," she said.

She pointed to places on trees where deer had sharpened their antlers, and she unearthed a long, slimy salamander.

"Don't rub his back," she cautioned. "You could dry him out."

The boys placed the animal in wet leaves before examining it further.

Ms. Hofmann gave track lessons before the boys took their hike. She duplicated animal prints with patterns on the floor of the Nature Center and demonstrated how different wild animals walk.

When Cody tried to walk on all fours in one set of tracks, he correctly identified them as raccoon prints.

After the lesson indoors, the boys set out with tracking gear -- rulers, a reference book and a magnifying glass.

"Here's a little hole, which could have been dug by many different animals," said Ms. Hofmann.

"Let me measure," said Chuckie Robinson, 7. "Four inches."

Chuck Kistler stuck his hand in the opening.

"I am not afraid. It's not deep," he said, then quickly drew his hand away. "Oops, it's a lot deeper."

The tracking was 8-year-old Richard Linsao's first visit to Piney Run from his Catonsville home. He planned to come back to go fishing.

"I have been looking for a good spot," he said.

He can return for a different activity each month, said Ms. Hofmann, who plans events for children of all ages.

"We come here a lot," said Marge Cobb, Mike's mother. "These classes are wonderful. They talk to the children on their own level and get them really interested in nature."

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