Children taught to love nature and avoid drugs Statewide program gives youths chance to fish, explore environment

July 26, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Although he has gone fishing only twice, Matt Vandegrift has fallen in love with the hobby.

"I like to eat fish, and I like to catch fish," said the Pasadena 8-year-old. "But I hate putting the worms on because they bleed and all that."

Matt and 14 other children got a chance to bait their hooks and cast their lines at Lake Waterford Park in Pasadena as part of a free fishing clinic sponsored by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs," a five-week program that ends next week, invites children ages 7 to 13 to participate in an outdoor activity and teaches them about the environment as an alternative to substance abuse.

The department has sponsored the program for seven summers, said Jennifer Cline, the supervisor. The program's first site was Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. It has expanded to nine sites throughout the state with about 2,000 children and 18 instructors, Cline said.

In addition to teaching fishing, program organizers invite police officers from local drug abuse resistance education (Project DARE) units to caution children about drug use.

"It's a huge issue," Cline said. "We're telling them that fishing is an easy way to go and have fun and relax and think about things rather than abusing drugs."

The clinic promotes preservation of the environment, she said.

"We stress the importance that water is a reusable resource," Cline said. "For instance, we tell them that the same water they used to brush their teeth with this morning is the same water that dinosaurs walked on eons ago."

Many of the children said they learned about the importance of keeping waterways clean.

"Don't pollute" said Remington Cantrell, 9. "If we do, the ducks will die, and fishing won't be allowed anymore."

Michael Toolan-Miller, 10, said he didn't know that his hands could accidentally wipe off the slick coating that serves as a protective barrier for a fish's skin.

"And you shouldn't pick up the fish by their gills and put your fingers in there because that will kill it," Michael said.

Other children said they were adamantly opposed to experimenting with drugs.

"I would never do it," said Sarah Scarborough, 8. "I'd rather go fishing."

Katie Myers, 10, was particularly harsh on drug users. "People who do drugs are stupid people."

The children caught a few bluegills, but not enough to satisfy their expectations. But James Bartlett, 10, didn't mind.

"I don't like to eat fish that much," he said. "I just like to catch them."

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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