Crowds of more than 600 fifth, sixth and seventh graders descended on the Wildcat Hills Nature Center on April 27 and 28 for a full range of outdoor adventure and education.
Nebraska’s largest outdoor classroom, the Outdoor Discovery Program, made its annual journey across Nebraska to encourage students to enjoy the outdoors. The action-packed program, sponsored by Nebraska Game and Parks, has visited the Panhandle every spring for 15 years.
“The Outdoor Discovery program is just one way for us to introduce outdoor skills, outdoor opportunities, and introduce Nebraska state parks to young people,” said program coordinator Julie. Plugge.
Students from nine participating schools flooded three areas of the Wildcat Hills with students eager to get wet to catch fish or learn about the power of pollinating insects. Participating schools over the two days were: Alliance Middle School, Bluffs Middle School, Garden County Schools, Potter-Dix, Westmoor Elementary; Bayard Elementary, Creek Valley Elementary, Geil Elementary, and Sidney West Elementary. Game and Parks staff, along with volunteers, ran 16 stations offering 40 minutes of hands-on fun facts designed to spark the interest of young minds.
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The Wildcat Hills Nature Center was the site of hands-on learning and demonstration stations that included Nebraska birds, reptiles and amphibians, pollinators, water, technologies in nature, hiking trails and small and big game.
The parks campground allowed students to get moving, experience camping, and get a taste of geocaching. Students also learned the intricacies of disc golf and outdoor cooking recipes, including campfire starters and s’mores.
A game at the shooting sports complex allowed many children to shoot air rifles for the first time as well as archery and 3D archery activities offered as part of the program National Archery in Schools (NASP). Screams and splashes could be heard from children at the location of turtles and fish as students were encouraged to catch a fish to find out more about it. Finally, groups willing to walk to the furthest station were met by a volunteer in native prairie attire to learn the art of “hawk throwing” using different sizes of tomahawks.
“The program creates a diverse opportunity to explore what’s on the outside,” Plugge said. “We have so many kids who just don’t go outside, recognize what’s out there or don’t have outdoor skills.”
Plugge explained that by bringing the Outdoor Discovery program to the Wildcat Hills in the spring, she hoped students would explore more of what they had learned over the summer. The program stops at Fort Kearney State Recreation Area and Platte River State Park in the spring and Ponca State Park in the fall.
“It’s been a lot of fun being here in Wildcat Hills,” Plugge said. “We manage to introduce the park to many children. Many of them don’t recognize that this opportunity is there and hopefully they will come back for some time on their own to continue exploring all it has to offer.
PHOTO GALLERY: Outdoor Discovery at Wildcats Hills
Nicole Heldt is a reporter for the Star-Herald and covers agriculture. She can be reached at 308-632-9044 or by email at [email protected]