By Rebecca Jones
On the third Saturday of every month, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman host a youth outreach program called “The Refuge Rocks.” Themes center on local wildlife, and different activities are provided for the four- to seven-year-old and the eight- to twelve-year-old groups. In February, our subject was “Backyard Birds.”
As the 20+ participants in the four- to seven-year-old class lined up for their first experience on Harris Creek Trail, I presumed that the combination of chilly weather and the sheer volume (read: noise level) of our group would provide us little chance of seeing any wildlife. I wasn’t wrong—but for these children that did not matter. They marveled instead at the curve of the tree branches, the stillness of the waters. They walked beside their friends and parents absorbing the scenery. Their shoulders slumped when we had to turn back, and many asked to come again after class.
|Photo by Drew Smith, courtesy of the Herald Democrat|
|Children walk the trail with parents at The Refuge Rocks (Photo by Holly Neal)|
I saw myself in the wonderment on their faces, but I also identified with the children whose eyes stayed glued to the path as they buried their hands in their pockets and kicked stones out of boredom.
I grew up on the refuge. For as long as I can remember (and even before I was born), my late father had done contract conservation work at Hagerman. As a kid, I would ride along with him while he checked and baited traps for wild hogs. I remember the raindrops hitting me like icy bullets as we rode his four-wheeler through the trees and puddles, the metal traps clanging noisily against the sides of the trailer. Later in life, we would spend our summers kayaking around the lake or walking the trails until my skin burned and muscles ached.
As a teenager, though, I secretly yearned for another life: one with Wi-Fi and all the conveniences of the city. After high school, I got my wish and moved to Sherman when I started classes at Austin College. Having lived there for the past seven years, I now secretly yearn to turn back time. What a gift I had growing up a stone’s throw from the lake and a wildlife refuge with a real outdoorsman for a dad.
My dad passed away last April, but Hagerman will always be a joyful reminder of the time we spent together and the knowledge he passed on to me. I’m now a Texas Master Naturalist and a regular at Hagerman’s monthly youth programs.
In March, The Refuge Rocks kids' classes will discuss wildflowers. Planning for the program is already underway, and parents can register their children for the class immediately. It begins at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it, I urge you to plan to come another day. Fish, hike, photograph and explore. The value of teaching children about nature today should not be underestimated.
|Photo by Tami Howard|