In Touch: Teaching children to value and respect the wilderness and the creatures that live there.

Submitted by by Steve Franklin, Guest blogger

I feel certain that, like me, most of you can recall more than one occasion when you didn’t explain your thoughts about a subject as well as know you can. I’m currently experiencing one of those moments.

On the day before Earth Day, a few other volunteers and I conducted an educational field trip event for the first graders from Lake Alfred Elementary School. My portion of the program involved taking them for a short hike on one of the trails at Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve, which is located in the City of Lake Alfred.

Throughout the hike, I was discussing map reading, hiking safety, trail etiquette, and what it means to be a good steward of the land. However, I’m not certain that I did a good enough job of explaining the importance of being thoughtful and considerate of others when we’re out to enjoy the clean, wholesome fun that nature-related activities provide. Did I instill in them a new appreciation of nature and a concern for its survival, which will encourage them to value and protect it well into the future? With this article I’m tossing the ball into your court in hopes that you’ll make up for my shortcomings by enthusiastically discussing these topics with your children or grandchildren.

When I think of trail safety, I’m thinking about the wellbeing of both hikers and all of the other mortal beings who occupy the wildlands that we visit. It’s not just about people traveling on foot from point A to point B without getting hurt. It’s also about respecting the homeland of the wild creatures that live in our forests, scrub habitats, rivers, lakes, marshes, and swamps. It’s about developing a love of Nature that beckons us to return to her over and over again. We should be there to enjoy and appreciate the benefits that large trees provide---cool air and the sound of hymns being hummed as the wind circulates among their leaves.

We can listen to the water in a river gurgle rhythmically over limestone and past snags as it makes its way slowly but surely to the sea. We may hope for a glimpse of some of the wild residents of those ecosystems while remaining determined not to disturb them as they work and play. It’s truly a joy to quietly observe deer, squirrels, armadillos, raccoons, birds, or even fish as they go about living the natural lives they were intended to pursue. These are some of the reasons we go for walks in the
woods or canoe down a peaceful stream, besides just being curious to see what might be found around the next bend in the river or turn in the trail. Trail etiquette dictates that we not disturb other creatures or their habitats.

After the hike, I showed the children a full five gallon bucket of litter---cigarette butts, soda cans, plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, and the remnants of a water balloon fight---which I picked up along the street and around the picnic area at Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve before they arrived. I explained to them that any of these objects could lead to the death of an innocent animal if it tried to eat them and became choked. I asked them if these were the kinds of things they wanted or expected to see whenever they visited a park. I implored them to speak to their families and friends about taking pride in their home town and its surroundings by taking litter of all kinds home with them instead of throwing it from car windows or allowing it to blow out of the beds of pickup trucks. I believe that, in spite of their young age, they all agreed that this was a necessity if we are ever to be considered civilized people.

I taught them the old saying about visits to parks and preserves: Take only pictures, and leave only footprints. My hope is that I helped a fair share of those young people begin to acquire a love for all of nature’s wonders that will lead to a lifetime of exhilarating adventures and enlightening experiences. Did they go away feeling awed by America’s wild places? Will they adopt an uncommon respect and concern for the long-term protection of our natural resources? Only time will tell, but when it does it will shout it out loud and clear.

Do you want to help FNPS with its environmental education programming? Contact our Education Committee


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