State hopes new Web site encourages disabled youths to enjoy the outdoors

Project connects pupils with natural resources in time for summer

June 10, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Clicking through the Internet yesterday, Austin Higginbottom discovered new ways to enjoy Maryland's outdoors -- not such an easy task for a boy whose right leg will be in a cumbersome brace much of the summer.

"I found a lot of places where I can go fishing," said Austin, 9, a third-grader at Pine Grove Elementary School who had surgery recently to correct a leg turned inward because of cerebral palsy.

To build awareness among children about Maryland's parks, rivers and other outdoor resources this summer, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Department of Education created an online education program, "My DNR," which was unveiled yesterday for pupils at Pine Grove Elementary in Carney. The school was also visited by several creatures in the DNR's Scales and Tales program, including an owl and a vulture.

"Our children are the future caretakers of Maryland's natural resources," said Pine Grove Principal Terri Filbert. "What they learn today through projects like `My DNR' will help them make better decisions in the future."

The program focuses on the increasing number of state parks accessible to people with disabilities, said Debbie Heller, a DNR therapeutic recreation specialist.

More than 300,000 brochures on the program are being distributed this week to every third-, fourth- and fifth-grader in the state's public schools.

"We've been working since 1988 to make the state's major outdoor attractions accessible, but I'm amazed at the number of people who still don't know that," Heller said. "Hopefully, families who have children with disabilities will be able to look at this and see the wide range of opportunities of things they can do."

After looking at the Web site yesterday, Mary Tselepis and her 8-year-old son Jamie, a Pine Grove pupil who uses a wheelchair, were thinking about possibilities for this summer.

"We're talking about going camping as a family," Mary Tselepis said. "There seem to be a lot of places we can go."

To encourage students to explore the entire Web site and learn about the state's 370,000 acres of parks, forest and public lands, and 14,000 miles of streams, the program includes a scavenger hunt with Ol' Blue, the blue heron mascot of Maryland's "Bay Game," an activity book for children.

"It's really cool," said Pine Grove second-grader Drew Oudin, 8. "I'm going to look at the Web site all summer so I can see where the fish are biting and go there. I like catching big rockfish."

Children ages 8 to 12 who complete the scavenger hunt by answering questions about Maryland's environment can mail their entries to the DNR, said Gene Deems, the department's Internet and media manager. Prizes include computer software, hummingbird feeders, park passes and tree-plantings at the schools of some winning students.

Yesterday, as the pupils took a virtual tour through the state's parks, DNR representatives brought out specimens of what they were learning about, including Chesapeake Bay grasses and a horseshoe crab.

More than 50,000 visitors see DNR's Web site each month, which received 1,107,397 visits last month.

The My DNR Web site can be found at www.dnr.state.md.us/mydnr.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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