Open house aims to educate and connect children with wildlife

The event at the National Conservation Training Center's has been held since the center opened in 1997.

The event at the National Conservation Training Center's has been held since the center opened in 1997.

October 16, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Visitors to the National Conservation Training Center's ninth open house on Saturday might have thought the red-tailed hawk, crow and horned owl they were seeing were native Americans.

They were wrong, said Lorrie Westman, a master falconer from upstate New York. The three birds were African natives, she said.

Westman did have an American peregrine falcon in her small flock of raptors. It happily was chewing on a frozen quail, oblivious of the gawkers standing around.


The daylong event at the 538-acre center on Shepherd Grade Road has been held since the center opened in 1997, said John R. "Rick" Lemon, the center's director from the beginning.

The idea behind the event, besides entertaining adults, is to "educate children and get them close to animals, so they can make a connection and care what happens to wildlife," Lemon said.

Many youngsters today are not connected with nature, Lemon said.

The training center works with the Days in the Country Environmental Education Foundation based in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., to organize the open house.

The event brings in experts such as Westman and Pat Nolan of Ponderosa Kennels in Smithsburg. Nolan brought Fly, his 2 1/2-year-old black Labrador retriever, who showed her skills at finding birds in a large field that Nolan had "shot."

The dog wowed her audiences with an uncanny ability at finding and retrieving the prey - plastic pipes and fake ducks - often on a whistle or hand signal from Nolan.

Visitors also thrilled to the antics of trained sheepdogs as they rounded up an unruly bunch of woolies, mostly on their own, sometimes with mild commands from their handler.

Visitors were able to take a specially designed endangered species nature walk that showcased species under threat within 100 miles of Shepherdstown and elsewhere. The goal was to raise awareness of a potential ecological threat.

An expert from Bass Pro Shops demonstrated the art of casting and fishing techniques at a pond on the center's grounds.

Days in the Country's mission, according to spokesman Nigel E. Casserly, is to bring environmental awareness through education, especially to children. The stewardship of the environment soon will be their responsibility for the generations that follow.

The training center has about 100 federal employees and another 75 contract workers for housekeeping, security and maintenance chores, Lemon said.

Each week, 225 people - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservationists along with those from 50 countries, educational institutions and industry - come to the center to take part in its training programs.

There is no charge for service employees, but everybody else pays, Lemon said.

Their tuition pays to run the center, he said.

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