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Rowan Wild holds second Animal Adventure Spring Break Camp

SALISBURY — Marching over the crunch of gravel, a troop of local students headed excitedly toward the Dan Nicholas Gem Mine on Wednesday.

Members of the 14-person group ranged in age from 7 to 9, and each used critical eyes to observe the green canopy overhead. Familiar specimens were quickly identified to listening camp leader and Rowan Wild staff member Will Sanders: white oak, sweet gum — the list went on.

The effort, used to pass the time from activity to activity, put learning into practice for the youths, participants in Rowan Wild’s second annual Animal Adventure Spring Break Camp at Dan Nicholas Park.

According to Brooke Wilson, assistant naturalist with Rowan Wild, the camp came about when she saw a need for engaging, educational activities during spring break.

“I thought, ‘We’re here. We’ve got the staff. Let’s do it,'” she said.

The camp kicked off last year with 12 out of 15 spots spoken for.

“We like to keep the camp sizes small so that our campers can have the most personalized experiences,” she said.

The camp included nature walks, wildlife and plant identification and hands-on experiences with the Rowan Wild animals and reptiles — all mixed in with a dash of enjoying other park activities such as the gem mine, carousel and train.

“It’s all stuff kids like to do,” Wilson said.

On Wednesday, campers Evelyn Phan and Greenleigh Burridge each reported a particular fondness for the gem-mining activity, showing off their scores of brightly colored stones for the taking.

Animal Adventure Spring Break Camp is lead by Rowan Wild nature education assistants Sanders and Misty Parrish, each with a background in environmental education.

Overseeing the campers as they panned for treasure in the gem mine, Sanders said the camp had been a lot of fun.

“There’s been a lot of energy,” he said.

Sanders’ passion for natural science began during his days as a Boy Scout and later as leader and participant in camps with Scout groups. He pursued environmental studies in college, hoping to teach science.

He said his goal is to pass on this enthusiasm for nature to spring break campers, a hope he’d already seen come to fruition by midweek.

“We’re already seeing them taking lessons like recycling to heart,” he said. “We’ll go on hikes and they’ll pick up trash and ask, ‘Why do people do this when it hurts animals?’ That’s exactly the point.”

Parrish, his co-instructor, expressed a similar hope to educate campers. New this year, she crafted field guides for each participant: booklets to help them identify animals, plants and tracks as they went about day-to-day activities.

Sanders said campers had been enjoying the guides, some even forgoing more recreational activities like the carousel to spot and chart the items in their books.

“If we can get them to learn even one new thing, that’s great,” said Parrish. “The guides have certainly worked toward that so far.”

Wilson said the Animal Adventure Spring Break Camp was the first of several upcoming camps at Dan Nicholas. Others include a herpetology camp for 12- to 18-year-olds, an outdoor survival skills camp for 10- to 14-year-olds, a zookeeper camp for 10- to 14-year-olds, and two more sessions of Animal Adventure camp for 7- to 9-year-olds.

The camps will each provide hands-on experiences in the natural sciences, everything from testing out field research with Dan Nicholas’ reptile population to handling and caring for the park’s “animal ambassadors,” said Wilson.

For more information, visit www.rowanwild.org or visit the Rowan Wild booth at the Summer Fun Fair, which is from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Rowan Public Library.

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