At park, learning the ropes

Nature: For area children in the Junior Rangers program, rock climbing is just part of a summer of outdoor education.

July 10, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eleven-year-old Seth Lippa clung to a sheer rock face last week, 25 feet above ground. The youngster called down to Patapsco Valley State Park naturalist David Chrest, who wore a harness and rope attached to his climbing gear. Seth was ready to come down.

This is the second year that Seth, an Elkridge resident, has climbed the wall. He is a participant in the park's Junior Rangers program for ages 8 to 13. "It's fun rock climbing," Seth said, adding that he enjoyed climbing so much last summer that he signed up again.

Junior Rangers is an outdoor education program sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources. Offered at state forests and parks, the nature-themed curriculum spans three summers. Groups meet once a week for six weeks each year to earn badges, work on service projects for the park and conduct independent research projects. The program fee is $30.

Patapsco Valley offers three Junior Rangers sessions: one at the Avalon area in Howard County and the others at the Hilton area.

According to park naturalist Anne Kernan, who runs the local program, between 10 and 20 youths signed up for each of the sessions. Participants come from Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Carroll counties.

Jessica Schoenenberg, 8, of Cooksville said she is involved in Junior Rangers " 'cause I really like the outdoors." Last week, she said, "we actually caught some minnows and got to hold some."

Kernan enjoys introducing children such as Jessica to the park. "It's very rewarding and exciting to see them get turned on to the outdoors and nature, especially when they do things they've never done before," she said.

The theme July 2 was outdoor survival. The children rotated between climbing and learning about safety, wilderness survival and first-aid.

Kernan worked with the climbers. "They all look a little tentative right now, but they'll be happy at the end," she said as they prepared to go up the 30-foot wall.

Each child put a climbing harness around his or her waist and legs, as did Kernan and Chrest, who belayed the children as they climbed up and down the wall.

Alvin Cottrell, an automotive service supervisor at the park, prepared the climbing gear. He said working with Junior Rangers "gives you a chance to help them along in programs, develop skills, give them some encouragement as to not only what they can do in the park, but in the world itself: group skills, team leadership, individual ability and building character with one another."

The rest of the Junior Rangers worked with seasonal naturalist Robb Bailey.

They sat in the shade of a

park pavilion, talking about what to do if they get lost or hurt outdoors and how to prepare for a day hike. Bandannas, they learned, are a hiking necessity, good for bandages, splints or flags for help.

"One of the advantages of this job is that you learn almost as much as the Junior Rangers do" about safety and the parks, Bailey said.

The park also offers Park Pals for ages 5 to 7. Children meet one morning a week for nature-related stories, games and crafts, as well as guided park exploration.

Kernan said the two programs offer enough flexibility that each park can highlight its strengths. "You can make your own lesson plan. That makes a lot of sense because every park is different and you can make it work for your own particular park," she said.

The Avalon area visitors center is the only remaining building from the Colonial town of Avalon, something Kernan will make use of with the Junior Rangers. "Our last session is on living history," she said. "We are working on getting some costumes made from the 1830s period when the town of Avalon existed."

She would like the children to be able to handle some toys from that period and try on the clothes.

"We want them to feel like they are stewards of their state park system -- this is their back yard, their local area -- that they will come to respect the natural and cultural resources here and want to take care of them," Kernan said.

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