Baby Animals – If You Care, Leave Them There

20 May

10982035_10205537892659236_3706015615851795486_nIt’s only May 20, but our offices have been answering a LOT of phone calls about baby animals already. Our advice is always going to be, “If you care, leave it there.”

Sometimes mother nature isn’t kind. Animals are different than humans – they leave baby animals behind for reasons we can’t always see – they may be ill or diseased. Nobody wants to think about what happens to those babies, but they usually end up playing a role in another animal’s circle of life. Sad, but factual.

So far this year, we’ve received phone calls regarding these animals:

Ducklings – 8 calls

Squirrels – 3 calls

BIrds – 2 calls

Rabbits – 8 calls

Raccoons – 2 calls

Groundhog – 1 call

We don’t want to give you the bad news, but baby animals picked up by humans don’t end up well. Tell your kids, your neighbor kids and your friends – If you care, leave them there. 

The Real Butterfly Lady

3 Feb

This bench was dedicated to Jack and Marjorie Carlin by their children. It sits at the top of the butterfly garden at The Outdoor Campus, giving visitors a view of the incredible garden their parents created.

By Thea Miller Ryan

In the 18 years we’ve been open, you meet a lot of colorful folks. None are so colorful as our volunteers, who have splashed us with a pallet of vibrancy over the years.

Today our world lost a little bit of color. We found out Marjorie Carlin left us here, taking a bit of every color of the rainbow with her. Marjorie was our original butterfly garden lady.

In 1997 we trained our first group of volunteers – Marjorie and her husband Jack among them. The two Carlins didn’t take long to approach me. “We can’t have a nature center without a garden,” they insisted. I was up to my eyeballs in this new place,and the thought of even planting a pot full of flowers was more than overwhelming. “We’ll do it. We love gardening. We’ll make it for butterflies,” they promised.

Their promises were their word.

Soon, 6,000 sq. feet of park grass was an amazing, thriving, growing butterfly garden. You’ve never seen the likes of it. It even inspired an annual festival, Butterfly Garden Day, that carried on until the butterfly house across the road was built and took over butterfly education.

Marjorie and Jack were here, every single day (even Sundays!) for hours. When they “retired” from the garden, Marj had put in 1,665.39 hours and Jack had 1,159.27. That’s 2,824.66 hours… the equivalent of a full-time person.

All our volunteers continue to give, and will continue to bring us the colors we lost today. We will miss you, Marjorie. I hope Heaven is full of flowers.

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What Volunteers Do for The Outdoor Campus

5 Sep IMG_0737

IMG_0843We love our volunteers! As of the end of August, we have 128 active volunteers! We couldn’t do it without them!

Here are some AWESOME facts about our volunteers:

Number of Volunteer Hours for August (as of 8/25/2014): 341:35

Activities Volunteers took part in:

  • Animal Care/Filling Bird FeedersIMG_0737
  • Front Desk
  • Community Programs (Sprouts, Young Nats., Jr. Nats, Jr. Hunter)
  • Outdoor University

If you, or anyone you know, are interested in being a volunteer at The Outdoor Campus, please click here to learn more! 

TOC Kids Say…

28 Aug

By Abbie Blank-Libra, naturalist intern

I wish I could remember every hilarious comment that slips out of a child’s mouth…

P1130258Actually, the comments don’t slip out – they are quite deliberate. The 5-7 year old age group, Young Naturalists, is my favorite. Their minds have not yet formed a filter, so whether or not you ask for it, you’re going to get the truth. Or at least what they believe is the truth.

“How old do you think I am?” I asked some young hunters, as we headed to the archery range.
The answers came quickly. “12! 72! 35! 16! 19! 24! 43!” My response?
“Do I look as old as your mom…or your grandma?” I shouldn’t have asked.
To my relief the majority of the kids replied with a quick “No!” but a number of them shouted back, “Yeah, I think so! Are you a mom?!”… Conversations like this one are fairly common.
And I’m 21.

P1120969When kids make the rules:
o “Don’t do what you don’t say.” (That was my favorite. Any guesses on what it means?)
o “Don’t poop in your pants.” (Yes, please don’t do that.)

Eating smacos is always a messy task, but during one class I was extremely impressed to see a little girl stand up with chocolate smeared down the entire length of her leg.

We always introduce ourselves and the volunteers at the beginning of a class. Once as I was doing so, one boy— about 4 years old— cut in and said, “Nice to meet you, Abbie! My name is Parker!”
Before I could finish my reply, “Well, it’s nice to meet…” he jumped in again.
“…And this is Ava, and this is Gabe, and that is….etc, etc.”
Needless to say, introductions went a little longer that day.P1130465

In my Endangered Species class, we discussed how deforestation can be a cause for endangering certain species. That bit of info garnished the following response from one boy:
“Well, I was going to be a construction worker when I got older, but I don’t want to cut down trees anymore. So… I guess I’ll just become a professional bug hunter.” Sounds good to me, kid.

P1130253A young girl shared quite the story when I asked if anyone had seen a Bald Eagle before: “I HAVE,” shouted a young girl from the corner of the room. “Was it sitting in the top of the tree?” I asked her.
“No! I was playing softball and the eagle came flying down onto the field and stole the softball! THEN it dropped it on some girls head!”

Throughout the summer we have heard some pretty entertaining stories — real or maybe not so real. From frogs jumping over houses to catching thousands of fish in one day, reeling in a fish over ten feet long to eagles catching softballs, the stories never get old. True or not, we get enjoyment enough in watching the kids’ eyes light up as they tell their tales.P1130307

A Snapping Turtle Rendezvous

22 Aug

P1130613By Matthew Stoffel

Outdoor University is our favorite time of year for many reasons, one being that it brings together our own staff and the staff of The Outdoor Campus-West. This provides an opportunity to do what TOC staff –East and West river – do best: Teach and learn about the outdoors.

On this occasion, Keith Wintersteen, the Group Program Naturalist of TOC-West, had requested a lesson from our own Derek Klawitter. The subject? How to harvest a snapping turtle.

The snapping turtle came from TOC-West, along with their rock wall.

The snapping turtle came from TOC-West, along with their rock wall.

For those who don’t know, Derek is huge on hunting. If people kill it and harvest the meat somewhere in the world, he probably knows a thing or two about it. In the case of snapping turtles, he learned from his uncle when he was a teenager.

Keith had heard interest from several visitors in learning how to clean a turtle for turtle soup or other recipes. In South Dakota, anyone with a fishing license can reel in, trap or simply grab turtles for consumption. There is a daily limit of two turtles of each species and a possession limit of four of each species, with False Map turtles being protected. (Because turtles are long-lived animals and take time to reach sexual maturity, turtles can only be taken for personal consumption.)

Derek sharpening the filet knife.

Derek sharpening the filet knife.

In any case, Keith set out to create a class on the subject, and will also integrate a demonstration into his “Taste the Black Hills” TOC-West class on legal foods that can be forage in the Rapid City area.

The details of how you clean the turtle are a bit gory for our normal blog content, but interested readers can take a look at this article from The Rapid City Journal, featuring both Derek and Keith:

What made me proud was seeing that the turtle Derek demonstrated on was not only handled respectfully and used for educational gain, but also knowing that every useful part of the turtle was spoken for before the lesson even began. Nothing was going to go to waste. The claws are being made into a necklace, the shell and skull have been set aside for education at TOC-West and the meat will be… Well, meat.

Derek has his turtle-cleaning method down to a science.

Derek has his turtle-cleaning method down to a science.

Overall, it was a cool experience, and it helped establish a bit of comradery between the two campuses before our biggest day of the year.

Outdoor Painting: Using Nature’s Resources

18 Aug Outdoor Campus Nature Painting

Outdoor Campus nature painting 3By: Erica Jurgensen, naturalist intern

For one of my “Pop Up” classes I decided to lead a group in using nature’s resources to paint. The original plan was to be outside to do all the artwork, but rainy weather said otherwise. We still made it work and had lots of fun!

The first objective of the class was to go over a few basic elements of art, such as primary and secondary colors. We then discussed what kinds of materials one might use to paint, without having paper or a paintbrush. The class was spot on when they started naming different natural resources such as rocks, leafs, sticks and other plants. This was the purpose of the class: to explore different ways to use nature’s resources in art. I had already done a few examples of my own to spark the class’s imagination. The only requirement was everybody had to create something using only what they found in nature.Outdoor Campus nature painting 2

I had already collected a few supplies due to the rain, but the class went out on their own to find supplies as well. The natural supplies we used were leafs, flowers, grass, bark, pine cones, pine needles and twigs. I supplied string for them to tie supplies to a twig to create a paintbrush. I also supplied paints, paper and hot glue guns. (I wish we would have had enough time to make homemade paint as well!) Later, after they created a project from nature, I allowed them to use everyday materials, like the paintbrushes we are used to today. Few projects were created that didn’t use at least one natural element.Outdoor Campus nature painting 1

The class consisted of all ages and experience levels, which sparked a lot of creativity. I even had a younger girl tell me she was taking lots of art classes in school so she knew exactly what she was doing. I often reminded my class if their painting didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to, to use their imagination and turn it into something else. We had everything from kids spray-painting leaf impressions, to gluing sticks together, and even finger painting for the little ones. It was great having a class full of positive energy and students eager to discover different ways to use nature’s resources.Outdoor Campus nature painting 4


A Day in the Life of a Sprouts Teacher…

13 Aug

By Ali Ramsley, naturalist intern

Ali has been a naturalist intern with TOC since this past spring.

Ali has been a naturalist intern with TOC since this past spring.

I have become smitten with teaching Sprouts classes. Something about the excitement these kids bring into the classroom brightens my day and readies me to teach.

A day in the life of a Sprouts teacher goes like this: I scan our registration list, knowing which students will sit quietly, soaking up the information, and which ones will be shooting their hands up in the air for every question and the ones that will make hilarious statements throughout the class.

When kids start running through the doors before class, their faces light up when we already have a name tag made for them. Some of them give me a knowing smile and come running up to the registration desk. Others will look, give a shy smile and hide behind mom or dad – even when I know they’re one of the most talkative kids in the class.

The kids face the puppet show curtain expectantly, as I take a seat on the floor and begin talking about what we’re doing in class. My directions are drowned out by multiple little voices yelling the latest thing that has happened in their day. I may hear a love proclamation from one of the little boys. The puppets begin and the room fills with laughter. The kids are so involved in the show, there is no distracting them.

Ali helping a student during "H is for Hawks."

Ali helping a student during “H is for Hawks.”

During show and tell I get crazy stories. We’re learning about insects in Sprouts. When I ask the kids if they’ve seen an insect, I’ll get, “No!” or, “I’ve seen millions!” I ask how many insects they think we have in the world, and get replies like seven or eight. So, when I tell them there are billions and billions of insects, their jaws drop and I have them hooked for the rest of class.

Then, we head out to our picnic tables to do crafts. We color a picture of a prairie and then stamp pictures of animals and insects. I come up on one boy whose arm is completely covered in the ink that should be going onto his paper. I stifle a laugh as his father chuckles, explaining his son loves stamping more than coloring.

When we’re done, I lead them into the classroom. By this time the kids are getting antsy: When I ask if they can help tell which puppets are insects and which aren’t, they all say “No!” You have to just laugh and continue on anyways! We count the legs on the puppet to see if they’re an insect. Once, a little boy insisted that a bat was an insect.

We agreed to disagree.

My favorite part of a Sprouts class is when they come up to me after and say, “Thank you for teaching, Miss Ali.” The Sprouts kids inspire me each day. You never know what to expect with a Sprouts class. They have taught me to take life one day at a time and enjoy the simple things.


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