Pa. wildlife program helps kids discover nature

July 10, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Chaos ensued Wednesday morning after a tiny rodent escaped from the hands of Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project instructor Brent Gift, creating a temporary interruption in the lesson as the girls shrieked and climbed onto picnic tables while the boys started chasing the harmless meadow vole.

"Where is he?" cried one boy.

"There, catch him," yelled another, pointing to the vole - mistakenly known as a field mouse - heading into the nearby brush.

The vole managed to escape, to the disappointment of many, but everyone's attention quickly returned to Gift as he opened another humane small mammal trap from which an active field mouse tumbled.


Setting the traps, using oatmeal and peanut butter as bait, recording the animals weight, sex, and other characteristics, and returning them back to their habitat is just one of the activities in the week-long education project held on the grounds between the James Buchanan High and Middle Schools.

"We're learning about animals, what kind of mouses - or mice, I guess - there are, and about leaves, trees and flowers and snakes," said Donelle Grove, 11, of Fort Loudon, Pa., one of over 50 elementary school children attending the event from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

A more advanced level of the same project will be held next week for middle and high school-aged children.

Project volunteers Gift, Barbara Peshkin and Clyde Neidigh said the purpose of the project is to get children closer to nature and encourage them to explore their surroundings.

"My feeling is, to get young people to preserve and protect nature and become more environmentally conscious they need to experience it and become more aware of it," said Gift, a biology teacher at Mercersburg Academy.

Wednesday morning started out in a classroom with a quick overview of the day's events and a brief discussion on population cycles.

Knowing the group wouldn't sit long, Gift ushered them outside for a quick game of "Oh deer," which demonstrates how natural resources decrease as population increases.

The crowd then quickly dispersed as each child ran over the bank down to the nearby meadow to the orange flags marking their traps.

"I signed up because I thought it would be fun and exciting," said Katelyn Smith, 11, of Mercersburg.

In the summer program for the third time, Bonnie Draper, 11, of Lemasters, Pa., said she's attending again because, "it's fun and I get to see all of my friends."

The children were separated into two groups for the last hour of the morning.

One group headed to the nearby west branch of the Conococheague Creek to test the water and to observe and collect marine life.

The others went to a laboratory at Mercersburg Academy where they analyzed water, fish tails and other substances under microscopes. That group is also monitoring the school's squirrel population by trapping them, using roasted peanuts as bait, and tagging their ears.

The Tuscarora Wildlife Education Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to wildlife education and natural history, was founded in 1987 by teachers in the Tuscarora School District.

The camp is free to children who live in the district.

To register for the program, call Gift at 1-717-328-3395.

The Herald-Mail Articles