A group of fifth-graders crowded around naturalist Aimee Weidner at Magee Marsh on Thursday, watching eagerly as she hoisted up a cutout of a bald eagle’s outstretched wings.
One by one, the Bataan Memorial Intermediate School students approached the silhouette, spreading their arms against it to measure the national bird’s lengthy wingspan.
Some giggled, a bit surprised it took two of them to cover the entire distance.
Inside a nearby building, another group of children perused dozens of glass display cases, eyeing educational exhibits containing various stuffed and mounted native species.
“I’ve never seen some of these birds before,” fifth-grader Averie Webb, 10, said. “It’s awesome to see them up close.”
Hundreds of Ottawa County fifth-graders flocked to Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge this past week for the 52nd-annual Ottawa County Area Fifth Grade Conservation Field Day. The two-day event offered students from nine districts — including Port Clinton, Danbury and Benton-Carroll-Salem schools — a chance to interact with native species and natural resources and learn how to protect them.
Employees shuttled students on a hay ride to five educational stations located at the two sites. They discussed various topics with presenters, including litter control, native birds and fish, local agriculture and the importance of keeping Lake Erie clean and thriving. The children also explored the marsh and wildlife refuge facilities and nature trails.
North Point Educational Service Center — which serves Erie, Huron and Ottawa counties — sponsors the event in conjunction with Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District, Ottawa County Recycling, Black Swamp Bird Observatory and several other agencies.
Many children have never visited either location prior to conservation day, making it a valuable educational experience, said Gene Fanning, special projects coordinator at North Point Educational Service Center. “Everything we discuss is part of their fifth-grade curriculum,” Fanning said. “We present it in an actively involved way and teach them about conservation. The one-on-one experience with the presenters allows them to gain exposure to nature that’s literally right in their backyard.”
Students and teachers then take what they learned back to their classrooms for follow-up assignments and activities.
“I really learned a lot,” fifth-grader Rock Ye, 10, said. “They showed us how to pick up trash to keep the lake clean.”
The event’s overall goal is to teach students about their active role in protecting the environment and its species, said Becky Simpson, Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District education specialist.
“One day, if they see the lake is dirty, or if they see trash on the ground, they’ll know why and hopefully want to do something about it,” Simpson said. “Getting out into the environment and learning about it in a hands-on way goes farther than any class textbook ever could.”