Area children learn lessons about environment

SENECA ROCKS – The Discovery Center at Seneca Rocks was booming with activity Saturday morning as more than 350 children and their families participated in hands-on activities focused at helping them feel for and learn about the nature that surrounds them.

The U.S. Forest Service partnered with 10 other agencies to highlight the importance of the environment and demonstrate how the habitat children see around them is just a small part of something much larger.

Organizer Cynthia Sandeno said the event featured live snakes, live bats, live fish, live invertebrates, a bug hunt, an inflatable cave, wildlife Jeopardy and visits from Tucker the Turtle and Smokey the Bear.

“This morning, more than 50 volunteers gathered to pull garlic mustard, one of the most invasive plants in the area,” Sandeno said. “Garlic mustard pushes out native plants and its roots release a chemical that kills plants such as trillium, orchids and ramps. It destroys other native wildflowers, some butterflies and some fish.”

Sandeno said the goal of Saturday’s event was to get people on public land and learning about nature and why it is great to be outside.

“We also are celebrating Smokey the Bear’s birthday,” Sandeno said. “Smokey will meet with children and their families and share his birthday cake.”

Glenn Nelson, with Save Our Streams, said he was taking the opportunity Saturday to show children benthic macroinvertebrates.

“What I am sharing are invertebrates that live on the bottom of streams and rivers that are visible,” Nelson said. “Their presence in the waters means the stream is healthy. Healthy streams do not contain pollutants and contain plenty of oxygen. Some of these insects include stone flies, may flies and caddis flies. Trout feed on them, so their presence means the stream is suitable for trout as well.”

Troy Waskey, district ranger for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service said the event at Seneca Rocks was a great opportunity to reach youngsters and help them learn about the state’s natural resources.

“This event offered students and their parents hands-on activities relating to more than just rock climbing in the area,” Waskey said. “Kids learned about invasive plant species, diseases in bats and other concerns with the environment. We wanted to offer youth the opportunity to embrace natural resource challenges. The activities were fun for all ages.”

Waskey said this was the third year for the event, which grows in size each year.

“Another great outcome of this event is the amount of interagency cooperation,” Waskey said. “We come together many times to tackle land management issues. It was great to come together and share our information with younger students and their families.”

Dustin Wichterman, from Trout Unlimited, said he appreciated the emphasis on partnership between the many agencies at Saturday’s event.

Partners for the Kid’s Day at Seneca Rocks Discovery Center include the U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, Potomac Highlands Cooperative Weed and Pest Management Area, the W.Va. Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Save Our Streams, Save Lucy Campaign, W.Va. Department of Agriculture, W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Conservation Service.