Exploration, fascination

Howard County Conservancy camps show kids what nature is all about.

Education Beat

News from Howard County schools and colleges

July 31, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO SUN

For Martha Moore, one highlight of the nature camps she has been running at the Howard County Conservancy this summer has been coaxing a little girl to touch a bug.

The girl was afraid of bugs when she started the week-long camp, Moore said. But once she got over her fear and touched an Australian walking stick, she became fascinated. She even started a bug collection, Moore said.

"Everything is based on what they can see, what they can do, with nature," Moore said.

The conservancy, a private, nonprofit, 232-acre nature preserve off Route 99, opened the Gudelsky Environmental Education Center last month. With an air-conditioned place to ride out heat waves and summer storms, the conservancy could finally start a nature camp program, something Moore had wanted to do since joining the conservancy in 2003 as a volunteer with Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program.

This summer, the conservancy is offering six weeklong nature camps. Topics include "What Goes Around Comes Around," about natural cycles of erosion and growth; and "What's All the Buzz About," focusing on the many insects on the property.

The camps, which cost $250 each, run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and are for children ages 8 through 12. About 15 youngsters attend each week.

A separate preschool program for children ages 2 1/2 to 5 provides 90-minute sessions Friday mornings through Aug. 18 that lets youngsters look for animal tracks, explore rotted logs, plant seeds and more. The cost for those programs is $5.

In the nature camp, children take hikes, learn about habitats and meet experts who teach them about animals. "It's all based on exploring nature," Moore said. As the camp brochure puts it: "Our nature camp encourages children to learn about Howard County's ecology and natural history in a fun and exciting way through stories, hiking and hands-on exploration of Mt. Pleasant."

The conservancy is centered on a 300-year-old farm that had been in the Brown family for generations, until it was received by the conservancy in 1993.

The spacious education center, built with such environmentally aware features as recycled rubber floors and carpeting made of recycled fibers, has a large classroom on the first floor and a gift shop and conference center on the second floor.

Art on the walls depicts scenes of the property painted by a group from Howard County Community College, and is for sale. The landscaping around the building is only native species, said Lynne Nemeth, the conservancy director.

A heat wave meant staying inside more than usual, said Tabitha Fique, the camp educator. "In the past week, we've tried to stay outside a majority of the time. There is a lot of farm to explore."

Last week, campers in the education center's classroom were tearing up strips of paper to create papier-mache owls later in the day, then learning about bluebirds from a volunteer and seeing a bluebird home on the property.

The campers showed off "toad abodes" they had created by painting clay flowerpots with colorful designs. The kids each made two, one to put on the property and one to take home, said Fique, who is one semester from earning a bachelor's degree in environmental studies from UMBC, she said.

"It's kind of like a cool little habitat for them," Fique said, adding that each week she does a "stewardship" project with her campers that lets them give back to nature, in this case by creating homes for the toads.

Darting among the campers was Mortimer, a fluffy white Shitzu that had been a stray. The affection between the dog and the children was clearly mutual.

Earlier in the week, the children had seen a snake, and they were still talking about it. "It was this big," said Joey Webster, 10, stretching his arms wide. "It was wrapped up in the pipes."

Ryan Swentzel, 9, signed up for all six of the camps, and, in the middle of the third week, seems happy with his decision. "I looked at all the programs, and I thought it would be cool," he said.

And Jocelyn Gluck, 11, praised the camp as "the best nature camp I've ever been to."

The conservancy is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Information: 410-465-8877 or www.hcconservancy.org.

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