By Doug Comer

Have you ever taken your child camping?  It can be weekend at Stonewall Lake or as simple as camping out with the kids in the backyard.

When was the last time you walked a trail in the woods and looked at what nature offers?  We have so much around us that can be learned for free.  Why read about it in a book or online when it’s right there in front of you?

The first leg of the Harrison County Parks and Recreation School Enrichment Programs is Outdoor Adventures.  Children are given the opportunity to sit by a campfire and tell stories about what life was like before I-pads and Smart phones. We offer them fun activities where they learn about nature and all it has to offer, which is way better than two hours of Candy Crush on your laptop. To summarize, we go back to the simple things in life.

Through the Harrison County Commission and the Vital Service Levy, students are given the chance to learn about the uses of a Slippery Elm and Echolocation. The event, which kicks off September 17th, is for children from pre-school to sixth grade and offers all the outdoor life education in interactive classroom activities.

“Our Outdoor Adventure program has different levels of programs for the kids who get an opportunity to visit the Recreation Complex,” related Director Mike Book. “The younger students will learn about fire safety with Smokey Bear, Echo-location activities through our Echo the bat story while the older students learn about compass and GPS location.  This program has different levels to fit all age groups.”

Smokey Bear, who turns 70 years old this year, has had a positive impact on the program with the younger children.  Tim Casto, a local forest ranger, brings fire and camp safety to our program and not to mention a special visit from the Bear himself.

“We set up a mock campground inside that gives the feeling of a real one.  The kids hover around the campfire and tents and we begin our opening from there,” said Book.  “Smokey Bear stops by and takes photos with the kids and when he heads back to the woods, we break out into groups and start the classroom rotation.”

The program, which is adjusted to the age of the students attending, has many visitors come and visit besides Smokey Bear.  Taking a break from planting apple trees throughout the northeast, John Chapman, or better known as Johnny Appleseed, visits and tells his story about his journey during the 1800s.  Also, legend has it that Big Foot lurks on the trail behind the facility and sometimes he curiously steps out to sneak a peek to see the kids as they pass by during the hayride.

The Rec Complex property, which covers close to 10 acres of ground, has a walking trail with over 30 species of trees as well as a classroom to teach kids about nature’s creatures.   There is a fire-pit area as well as the educational playground, which to this day, is the only one in this area as Book boasts.

“The Rec Complex offers many things for families like our educational playground, which tells a story about the life of bees or trees and the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies.  The kids love to run and play in the area and quite often the kids stop and read the signage telling the story that compliments each area.  And before fall, our gazebo should be complete which will open even more opportunities to educate on all of our Enrichments.”

GPS and Compass Navigation have played an important role in safety. People get lost in the woods on a daily basis and without the knowledge of some basic navigation things can take a turn for the worse.  Jeff Wetzel, the HCPRC Recreation Specialist, teaches the students about the basics of compass navigation and finding locations through GPS systems, which, as he states, could benefit someone in need.

“We set up two trails, one for compass navigation and the other for GPS location.  We cover the basics like how to hold compass and where to find north.  And after the introduction, we plot a course for the kids to test their skills.  For GPS, we do a similar program which entails the same philosophy but at a tech level.”

All in all, Outdoor Adventures is a fun-filled education program to provide basic knowledge of what the outdoors provides as well as makes the experience not only enjoyable, but also memorable to those who may never get a chance to experience this type of lifestyle.