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From the February 2007 Conservationist

How Cool Is That?

By Cassia Gravesande

elementary students visit Rogers Environmental Education Center

Most kids who grow up in an urban community rarely get the chance to interact with the outdoors. For example, they've probably never been skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, cutting wood, or been on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Well, even though I'm a city kid, I was lucky enough to enjoy these fun experiences.

Like most kids who attend Giffin Elementary School in Albany, I had never been ice fishing or snowshoeing. So when I heard that Rogers Environmental Education Center in Sherburne was granting students the chance to have some outdoor fun, I jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be one of my best outdoor experiences. And that's probably true for all the kids who ventured out on this field trip.

At first when they said we were going to a rural community (out of cell phone reach), I said, "Oh no." But I quickly changed my mind as we approached our destination. Along the way, I learned a lot about New York State. I bet there are a lot of kids growing up in New York who don't know the state tree, bird, or flower. They probably also don't know that bluebirds (the official state bird) were being kicked out of their homes by more aggressive birds. To keep bluebirds around, volunteers had to make trails of bluebird houses. You wouldn't believe how many bluebird houses we spotted on our trip.

When we got to the center, I was speechless. The exhibits and activities looked really fun and I couldn't wait to explore them. There were adventures to be found everywhere. Before we could begin, we split up into groups. I was put into Mr. Harris' group, which, strangely, was not that bad.

Our group's attention was directed toward ice fishing first; mostly because none of us had ever been ice fishing. When we got to the ice, almost everyone chickened out. Even though the aide reassured us that it was a shallow pond, we were afraid that the ice would crack and we would fall through.

When everyone settled down, we got onto the ice. Some of the kids didn't want to fish, but they learned how to set up the poles. Unfortunately, no one caught any fish. Maybe it was because we didn't use bait, but who knows?

Next we went to an exhibit where you had to choose a partner and use this long saw to cut off a piece of wood. It was messy, but fun. We tried boys against girls. I won't say who won, but if you want to see how it went, we have pictures in our school resource room. When we were done, partners had to decide who would keep the piece of wood. My partners were nice enough to let me keep the wood as a souvenir.

Next we did a rope course. A rope was tied between two trees, and laced with other ropes for handholds. The object was to make it from one end to the other without falling. I was way too scared at first, but I was able to conquer my fear on my second try.

After that we went inside to eat lunch and to see an exhibit on sea animals. We saw crabs, starfish, shells, clams, and even a turtle. It was really informative; I sure learned a lot. When that was done, we wanted to seal the deal on our trip, so we went on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. It was amazingly fun. The horse did the hard part; we just sat on hay and rode. We got to see a lot of sights. We even saw a deer running. How cool is that? While watching the deer, I was distracted and nearly fell off. But thanks to Mr. Harris, I didn't.

When the ride was over, we went snowshoeing. That's when the real fun kicked in. I kept falling in the snow; it was an experience to remember. I figured out the key to staying on my feet: one step at a time; slow and steady wins the race. Just before we left, we took a picture to remember our wonderful experience forever.

Our visit to Rogers Environmental Education Center was a lot of fun. I got to try new things. I learned that Mr. Harris wasn't so bad. And I got to spend my day outdoors in the snow laughing and enjoying myself, thanks to NYSDEC, Mr. Yusuf Burgess, and the Giffen Family Resource Center.

Note: The goal of DEC's Diversity Program is to provide outdoor recreation and natural resource experiences to youth, especially from urban areas, who would not otherwise have the opportunity for these experiences. The hope and expectation is that some of these youth will one day seek higher education and careers in environmental fields.

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Photo: Yusuf Burgess/John Harris