Nature Center holds three-day educational event on swamps

Thursday, December 27, 2007
Colleen Retz of Marble Hill, Mo., helped her 20-month-old son, Will, move the cardboard alligator snapping turtle, which lives in the swamps of Southeast Missouri, down the rope. "Cabin Fever Day" activities were centered around life within the swamp. (CHRIS PAGANO ~ cpagano@semissourian.com)

Cabin Fever days at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Campus Nature Center allows all ages to experience life within the swamp during a time when school is out. The event began Wednesday and will continue through Friday with planned activities beginning at 10 a.m. and running until 2 p.m.

On Wednesday, the nature craft area was filled with children who were creating three-dimensional swamp rabbit puppets, alligator snapping turtles and beavers from copied body parts attached to disposable bowls, toilet paper rolls and paper bags. Pinecone seeds were used as the scales on the turtle's shell to give it a plated look.

Nature Center education specialist Jeremy Sousy said the event is not only about swamp education but also intended to teach children and their parents that science can be fun, interesting and exciting.

The three-day event drew 539 participants last year, with some of the activities having 50 attendees. On Wednesday, attendance was at 170. This year's theme, "Life Within the Swamp," features 10 a.m. story time, 11 a.m. nature crafts, a 1 p.m. hike and a 2 p.m. naturalist program with live animals.

Colleen Retz of Marble Hill, Mo., said she read about the event in the Nature Center's newsletter and brought along some of her visiting family members to see the center, which she visits regularly. She helped her 20-month-old son, Will, with an activity in which participants moved a cardboard alligator snapping turtle attached to a string to its destination.

Will's uncle, Jimmy Mulloy, 25, of Kansas City, Mo., said, "It's a nice place to spend time with my nieces and nephews." Mulloy, an outdoorsman, also said, "I picked up a couple of new species of fish I didn't know about while I was here."

The largest freshwater turtle in North America, the alligator snapping turtle is larger and slightly less aggressive than its relative, the common snapping turtle. Sousy said a live alligator snapping turtle is on display at the back of the center and serves as a mascot.

"People call him 'Big Al,' and sit back and watch him while they're here." About two feet long with another foot of tail, Big Al is slow-moving. The turtle generally stays on a log, but goes to the surface hourly for air. "Their lungs are built for that," Sousy said.

Cabin Fever offered the opportunity to connect people to the land while they were visiting their families.

Nathan Bennett, 12, of Louisiana, said he liked creating his own environment by rubber-stamping the animals he chose to be in his swamp. He was visiting his grandmother, Shirley Beggs of Cape Girardeau, who brought four of her grandchildren visiting from St. Louis and Louisiana and her son-in-law, J. Alan Bennett, to attend Cabin Fever.

"Four more will meet us here later, " she said. Beggs receives a Nature Center newsletter but had heard about the event in the Southeast Missourian. "Two of them are really into crafts. We play games while we're at home. This really keeps them busy and occupied," she said.

Bennett watched his children color, cut and paste turtle appendages to disposable bowls. He called the event "wonderful," saying the projects were organized and fun. Bennett said the center was impressive for a town the size of Cape Girardeau.

Some children were motivated to stay longer or continue working once they got home.

Claire Hadler, a 5-year-old who attends St. Paul Lutheran School in Jackson, is a regular visitor at the Nature Center's mudpuppies classes for 3- to 6-year-olds. The visit to the Nature Center with her mother, Jill, was something to do while Claire was off from school. "She draws all day long," Jill said.

The bright-eyed, blond-haired girl sat at the center's drawing corner while waiting for the next event, a hike along White Oak Trace. Claire had made all the crafts and found it hard to name her favorite. She finally decided on the journal -- blank pages covered with a leaf stenciled on textured paper secured by a stick and rubber band.

C.J. Pickett of Jackson, who visited the Nature Center with his day care, Just Kids, decided to make a book after gathering the snake rub-offs he'd made at the nature craft program. "I'm going to make a book on animals. These two rubbings will be part of it, and I'm going to make up stories, too," he said. He named his creations "striped green anaconda" and "polka-dotted orange python."

Snakes are his favorite. "I used to have a pet snake in a cage named Tiny," he said.

C.J., not a stranger to the Nature Center, said he'd been fishing at the Nature Center with his father and that it was his fifth time on a field trip there.

For more information, call the Nature Center at 290-5218. All ages are welcome, and no registration is required.

cpagano@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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