I had the pleasure of leading a nature hike at Camp Wanake this morning for a 6th grade camp (I get to do it again tomorrow). I had 17 kids, 2 teen counselors, and 1 adult with the group. I was told that yesterday, the leader of the nature trail hike completed the hike and 2 other activities in 1.5 hours and had to kill time for half an hour. Well… I wasn’t going to do the one activity (micro habitats – or something like that) because I didn’t want to. I thought it sounded boring and not something my 6th grade scouts would enjoy, so 6th grade students at camp probably wouldn’t either. I knew that just walking the nature trail took me an hour and 15 minutes over the weekend, so I wasn’t worried about filling the time because there would be plenty to talk about on the way.
I did the hike like I generally do a hike with my scouts. Point out interesting things, trees, plants, etc. and then further down the trail when we see it again, quiz them to see if they remember what it was called.
We started the hike at the big Catalpa tree – checking out the the huge leaves, the funny finger-like seed pods, and the fabulous nest of bees that have been living in that tree for decades.
From there we started on the trail up towards Vesper Hill. I pointed out the pokeberries that are right by the God is Nigh sign. Talked about how it is poisonous… how the native americans and pioneers used it for a clothing dye… how they even cooked the berries into pies but that isn’t recommended because they are toxic.
Further up the trail past the scotch pines, I point out the fuzzy vines (my scouts know exactly what those are!!!)
and then some white flowering plants. The white flowering plants are white snakeroot, also a poisonous plant!! Mainly poisonous when eaten by livestock (cows) and then it makes their milk toxic and humans can get “milk sickness” from drinking the milk. Not so much a problem these days but still shouldn’t eat that plant. At this point, the kids are certain that anything and everything they touch will be poisonous. LOL! I told them, just don’t eat anything you find in the woods!!
Finally we get to a plant that they can touch… Jewelweed/Touch-me-not! The seed pods were in great popping mode and we had fun with that.
We talked about the black walnuts and how they would stain your hands if they opened them up. We talked about erosion. We looked at the damage from the summer wind storm. Talked about how a forest is a living, changing, growing organism. Saw tree roots from a tree toppled by the wind. Saw some fabulous cherry wood (again as a result of storm damage). Looked at decaying logs and talked about how the forest needs the decomposition to provide nutrients for the next generation of trees/plants. There was a quick hum of “circle of life” by the one counselor and a reminder that one could eat the bugs in the decaying log like Timon, Pumba, and Simba did. 🙂
We looked at tulip tree leaves (my favorite tree, just ask my scouts)
and sassafras tree leaves (we found all the different shapes). We talked about the things you can make with sassafras – tea & root beer mainly. We talked about the importance of sassafras to camp counselors for fire starting – especially for 1 match fires.
We looked at Knoll Pond and examined the cattails. Noted that while there are plenty of poisonous plants, cattails aren’t one of them and they can be eaten like celery, or you could make cattail pancakes.
We were impressed by the naturalists who took the time to bring unusual plants to circle Knoll Pond to provide food and shelter for the winter for the animals. Like the Autumn Olive bushes (the berries weren’t as ripe as this photo)
and the Bald Cypress trees. Neither of those plants being native to Ohio makes them extra special to be seen at Wanake. We also looked at Lycopocium (ground moss) which is one of my favorite plants too. It is rare and getting close to being protected (may be protected in some areas) because of the encroachment of humans.
Our hike took us full circle, with me quizzing them and giving them “bonus points” along the way. They aren’t sure what the bonus points are for…. LOL! I told them to tell their science teacher something they learned about nature on the hike and maybe she would give them some.
We ended up back at the frog pond where they captured a few frogs to play with. No one was willing to kiss any. 😦
Then we made frog cookies.
When we arrived at the frog pond, there was only 15 minutes left of the 2 hours. So they didn’t have too much time to play and make their cute snack. I think they had a decent hike. I kept them talking and learning and earning “bonus points” for almost 2 hours. It was a nice hike and a nice group of kids. Hopefully the ones on Friday will be as fun. 😉
Aren’t we glad that my biology degree and that wildflower college class come in handy occasionally??
****none of the photos are of the actual plants we looked at today, I didn’t want to drag my camera along while I was in “teacher” mode. They are all thanks to the search-ability of the internet.****