Dennis Walsh, a naturalist volunteer, describes to students from Oakdale School the characteristics of one of the trees at the Blue Creek Conservation Area.
As central-city children connected to the countryside, they popped beans from pods, stroked the scaly skin of a snake, shucked corn, and dined in a barn. Not just any barn, the biggest one in Lucas County.
During Blue Creek Days at the Blue Creek Conservation Area near Whitehouse last week, about 100 students, including 70 from Toledo Public Schools' Oakdale Elementary on East Broadway, explored acres of land that include a quarry, lush garden, and examples of wetlands, prairies, and oak savannahs.
Blue Creek Days is a partnership program presented by Nature's Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education, the Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Metroparks of the Toledo Area.
Hands-on activities vary by season. In the spring, students plant seeds in the International Children's Garden, and in the fall they learn about vegetables and fruit growing in the garden, in the former exercise area of the now-closed Toledo Workhouse in Waterville Township.
Dj Mears of Portage, an agriculture conservationist with the soil and water district, directed groups of students down rows of plants. During the peak season, the large, well-tended garden provides fresh produce for area food kitchens.
Trekking to Blue Creek is an annual, and popular, Oakdale tradition, fourth-grade teacher Karen McNaughton said. “These are central city kids. They haven't been out in nature like this. They haven't seen how things grow. They haven't walked at a quarry before,” she said, noting the several-hour adventure enriches what students learn in the classroom. “It adds dimension. It is something phenomenal for the kids.”
Students rotated from one area to another, and more than a few were thrilled to see animals nurtured by volunteers and staff at Nature's Nursery. A nonprofit organization near Whitehouse, it takes in about 2,000 native-to-Ohio animals each year, such as baby birds toppled from nests during wind storms.
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