Nature lessons, sweetened by s'mores

Eden Mill program teaches outdoor safety to families

July 06, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Each family found a spot on the grass where the folks spread out blankets or set up lawn chairs. There were about 100 people, from infants to seniors, gathered at the Eden Mill Nature Center for an evening program.

Some of the families were there to learn, some wanted to be outdoors, while others were there to enjoy the culmination of the event - making s'mores by campfire.

"This program gives parents and their children a chance to sit out in nature on a picnic blanket, be out around wildlife and learn at the same time," said Katie Soranno, a summer naturalist at Eden Mill Nature Center for the past two years. "It's very popular with people of all ages."

Called Family Campfires, the program was started in its current format about six years ago. The 90-minute program, free and open to the public, is offered on select Wednesdays and includes a presentation and campfire activities.

Some of the topics yet to be covered this year include: fire safety with Smokey Bear, bugs, tree identification and animal rehabilitation.

The program was started to meet the needs of parents and their children, said John Miller, vice president of Eden Mill Nature Center, who volunteered at the event recently.

"We noticed that when parents brought their kids out here for other activities, that they were just as interested in learning as their children," Miller said. "So we started offering programs that would give the parent the excuse they need to be out here."

Steven Tulp who has attended the event several times with his daughter Sydney, 7, said he finds it relaxing and informative. Often his daughter doesn't want to leave when it's over, he said.

"She comes out here and wants to explore and go to the stream," said Tulp, 43, of Pylesville. "We enjoy camping and being outdoors, so we really enjoy this activity."

On a recent evening, David Rieiher, a health department employee for the past 20 years, gave a 45-minute presentation on Lyme disease. Rieiher cited facts and prevention information from a public information guide published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although he typically gives presentations to Scouts and senior groups, he attended the event as part of the increased efforts by the state to better inform people about the disease.

In recent months, the state started a campaign called "Maryland Get Ticked Off," and Gov. Martin O'Malley proclaimed May 2008 National Lyme Disease Awareness Month, Rieiher said.

"There is a great need for Lyme disease awareness," he said. "Maryland had 41 people who had Lyme disease last year. And Maryland is always one of the top 10 states for reported cases of the disease."

Rieiher started his presentation - geared primarily to children - with some basic facts about ticks.

For starters, there are 80 species of ticks, but only the blacklegged tick, commonly known as a deer tick, carries Lyme disease, he said.

Ticks have to be attached to a person's skin for 24 hours in order to spread the disease and it takes three to 30 days for the symptoms to appear.

Then he cited the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, which include: headache, fever and chills. If untreated, it can cause neck stiffness, heart palpitations, dizziness and joint pain, he said.

He also identified several preventive measures that can be taken to protect both adults and children from Lyme disease.

The best thing a person can do to prevent Lyme disease is avoid contact with deer ticks, he said. However, for people who spend a lot of time outdoors, he offered some other family-friendly prevention measures including: spray insect repellent that contains DEET on clothing and skin; wear light colored clothing; tuck pants into your socks; and perform daily tick checks.

He demonstrated how to check for ticks, using a magnifying glass on Patrick McDermott, 7, of Bel Air.

"Deer ticks are very small and without a magnifying glass, it's hard to see them," he said, as he checked Patrick's hair. "You have to look in your hair, and on the skin and clothes every time your child comes in from a possible tick-infested area."

Patrick said he found the demonstration intriguing. And now he knows what to do to check and remove ticks, he said.

"When I go outside, I need to look at my hair and my clothes with a magnifying glass," Patrick said. "And if I find one, I should just remove it with tweezers."

Robin McDermott, his mother, who brought all three of her children to the event, found the Lyme disease presentation informative, she said.

"We're a very outdoorsy family," said McDermott, 36, of Bel Air. "Checking for ticks is like using sun block. It's out there, you know you should do it, but you still get sunburned. I learned a lot of things I can do with the kids so they don't get Lyme disease."

Dawn Mikelskas of Monkton brought her four children, one of whom just finished taking 30 days of antibiotics for Lyme disease, she said. Her son was bitten twice. She noticed the second tick on him, she said.

"We live in Monkton, and it's full of deer and horse farms," she said. "I honestly didn't know the things you can do to keep them off you. But today I've learned a few more things that I can do to protect my kids from Lyme disease."

Future Family Campfires will be held July 16; Aug. 6; and Aug. 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information: 410-836-3050 or

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