A wild and educational adventure
"Who's ready to get their hands dirty," Jon Kochersberger, a hydrologist with Ochoco National Forest asks a group of local third graders.
Not surprisingly, their hands shot up in a hurry as some students scooted toward the front of the crowd and their inquisitive expressions turned to eager smiles.
The kids had just begun their visit to the Stream Ecology station, and after a brief lecture on fish and streams, Kochersberger directed the students to two fish tanks filled with artificial sand, water and toys representing stream inhabitants.
This past Tuesday, Ochoco Creek Park was flooded with an estimated 800 first- through third-grade students who spent the majority of the school day at Wild Fest, an annual event that has previously been called Fin, Fire and Feather.
Though the name is different, the event is much the same as it has been for multiple years. Students from Barnes Butte and Crooked River elementary schools, and Powell Butte Community Charter School went to the park where numerous stations awaited them.
Kids were invited to paint paper fish, scurry under jump ropes and dodge puppet predators as they learned about the salmon life cycle. At the Macro Munchies station, the students examined bugs and insects from local waters with magnifying glasses, learning about the various critters in the Crook County watershed. Youngsters checked out different skulls and animal hides while learning about mammals and birds at the Skull, Hides and Horns station.
Safety was addressed by Crook County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, whose presentation covered what to do if you get lost in the outdoors, and by Ochoco National Forest personnel who discussed campfire safety.
And students once again had a chance to don animal outfits and zip around the park as part of the Costume Parade station.
Every year, a consortium of partners gather for a full day in May to engage local school kids and educate them about the natural world. The event grew out of Forest Service wildfire and wildlife education events in previous years, but it's grown to include a much broader message for kids about experiencing wild places and public lands.
The hands-on stations each aimed at teaching kids a different aspect of how natural processes work, or learning about the plants, animals and fish that inhabit the forests and streams here in Central Oregon.
Wild Fest is an annual educational event sponsored by the Ochoco National Forest in conjunction with many local partners, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon State Parks and Recreation, Crook County Parks and Recreation, the Crook County School District, Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District, Crook County Search and Rescue, Crooked River Weed Management Area, Crooked River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, K.D. Payne, Central Oregon Fire Management Service, Discover Your Forest, Deschutes Children's Forest and numerous volunteers.