Monday, February 23, 2015

Preventing "Nature Deficit Disorder", One Outdoor Experience at a Time

In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day routines, it's easy to overlook things not planned while attempting to check off those important items on our to-do list. But what is it that we may be missing? What void lies in waiting, languishing in the background of things that need to be done each day,  hoping for a reprieve from the over-stimulated environment of the latest electronics and gadgets that keep us preoccupied within the four walls of home, work and school?

The last 200 or so years of human evolution has brought about many great leaps and bounds in our knowledge and capacity to operate more efficiently. However, it has also brought the majority of us out of direct daily contact with the natural world. And this phenomenon has far-reaching effects on our brains which have been hard-wired for thousands of years to be a part of, rather than apart from, nature.

In his acclaimed novel "Last Child in the Woods", Richard Louv laid claim to the term "nature deficit disorder". In this indoor-centered culture, children are spending less than 4 minutes each day outside while devoting nearly 6 hours each day to screen time (computer, television, etc.), according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's "No Child Left Inside" initiative. While not a condition in a medical sense, "nature deficit disorder" was coined as a descriptive measure taking into account the detriment of isolating children from nature. Issues associated with this include attention problems, anxiety, depression and obesity as well as lowered cognitive functioning.

What can you do for your family?

Bringing nature to the forefront rather than the background in which we conduct our lives remains of critical importance in today's world. Decreasing the gap in awareness of this issue is necessary for raising up healthy families and communities for generations to come. It may seem daunting to squeeze in any time of what might be left in the day to outdoor play. But luckily, right here in Polk County, our Environmental Education Department (EE) is dedicated to getting your family active in the outdoors.

Environmental education in a child's life promotes many benefits. Encouraging children to actively engage in outdoor play sparks the imagination by encouraging the participant to view the interconnectedness of the world around them in regards to the natural environment. This hands-on approach to learning is not available in the structured confines of a traditional classroom. Instilling a love of living things rather than a fear (biophilia vs. biophobia) by exposing children to the wonders of nature cultivates an appreciation for the natural world around them. Curiosity of nature fosters a yearning to think critically as well as honing basic skills that lend well to all areas of life. Environmental education becomes an important asset in today's buzzing electronic and plastic world.

 What are you waiting for?! Get outside!

The Environmental Education Department here at Polk County Conservation has many opportunities to get you plugged into a variety activities whether you're 2 or 102!

Survivor Day Camp

Jester Park Equestrian Center

    Mar 17, 2015 @ 9:00 - 3:00 p.m.

Campers will have fun learning and staying active. Activities will include archery, fishing skills, geocaching, and survival skills. Students will make their own lunch over a fire they help build. Activities will take place both indoors and out.

Pre-registration required; deadline is March 10. Ages 10-12 years. Fee: $30. To register, click here.

Spring Break Horse Camp

Jester Park Equestrian Center

Monday, March 16 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 19 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Friday, March 20 @ 9:00 - 2:00 p.m.

Spring break is here! Are your kids going stir crazy in the house? Bring them out for some horsey fun over the spring break holiday. Camps will include safety training, horsemanship skills, a riding lesson, a wagon ride, and a nature hike.

Camps are by reservation and are $60/session. To register, call (515) 999-2818.

Registration for the following summer camps opens Saturday, February 28.  

These day camps are designed to encourage hands-on learning through outdoor explorations, activities, games, crafts, and more. Camps will be led by naturalists. 

 Discovery Camp
July 6-9
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Ages: 6-7 years

This camp is all about animals! Learn about the basic animal groups: insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. There will be plenty of games, live animals, snacks, and more! 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $60. Registration deadline is June 29. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter #5

Water Wonders Camp
June 8-11
9:00 a.m.– 3:30 p.m.
Ages: 8-9 years

Come and get your feet wet as we discover all we can about water. We’ll compare ponds, rivers, lakes, and wetlands plus the animals that live in them. Daily field trips will take us to various Polk County parks. 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $120. Registration deadline is May 25. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter by Lodge

Junior Naturalist Camp
June 15-18 and June 22-25
9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Ages: 10-11 years

Do you know a child who loves the outdoors? Campers will spend the week fishing, canoeing, hiking, geocaching and more while exploring the outdoors. Campers will also learn how to use a compass, build a fire, and cook a snack over a fire. On the last day of camp, campers will become official Iowa Junior Naturalists and receive a badge and certificate. Daily field trips will take us to various Polk County parks. 

Pre-registration required; Fee: $120. Registration deadline is June 1. Limited to 12 campers. Meeting location: Jester Park, Shelter by Lodge

Keep Polk County Conservation's Summer Skills series on your radar as well (beginning in June)!
Summer is about having fun and playing outside. Join our naturalists as they introduce your child to some fun outdoor activities which can be enjoyed the rest of their lives. Geared for youth 10-16 years old. Come to one or sign-up for an entire series.
All equipment will be provided. Pre-registration required. Fee: $10.

Be sure to check out our calendar of events for upcoming events and programs for adults.

From weekend backpack and kayak trips to wildflower hikes, from beekeeping and edible gardening basics to volunteer events, we have it all for every interest and ability level!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Iowa's Winter "Slumber" Party

Courtesy of Scientific Beast
 In the depths of winter, we animals of the human variety tend to fall into three categories - those who anxiously strap on their boots at the first sign of a falling snowflake; those that setup shop fireside with a good book and hot coffee/cocoa in hand earnestly waiting for the sun's rays to penetrate the frosted landscape; or those who fall into that "happy medium" category.  But what do our animal counterparts do to pass the time before the days lengthen and the first green shoots emerge from the ground and trees? Animals of all kinds here in Iowa function at both ends of and along the spectrum (hey - just like us!).  Critters will migrate, adapt or hibernate during these frozen winter months.

Hit the road, Jack (or adapt!)

Well-known migratory animals that travel in search of food sources and warmer weather include various songbirds, waterfowl and butterflies.  Adapters are those who stay active in winter and adjust as a result of changing weather conditions. This may mean growing a thicker winter coat of fur. Certain birds will molt their feathers from breeding season into the more subdued and subtle colors of winter plumage. Other adaptations include diet changes. Deer and rabbit thrive on moss, twigs, bark and leaves. Red fox subsist on small rodents in place of the fruits, grasses and insects that were available during the warmer months.

But who hibernates here in Iowa?

Reptiles and amphibians sure do! These two collectively make up a group referred to as "herps", this word derived from herpetology or the study of reptiles and amphibians. Herps rely on radiant heat from the environment for body temperature regulation, making them ectothermic creatures. During the cold winter months, herps hibernate as a means to slow body functions which conserves energy needed for life. Hibernation for these critters usually occurs at the bottom of ponds and lakes, buried in mud or below the frost underground. 

What about mammals? Which ones hibernate?

Here in Iowa, we can expect raccoons, skunks, bats, and chipmunks to enter into light (elongated periods of sleep but still awaken) to true hibernation dependent upon the species. Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are a prime example of true hibernation where heart rate goes from 80 beats per minute to only about 5 beats. Their body temperature also drops to a staggering 60 degrees Fahrenheit below their normal temperature! This allows woodchucks to conserve a tremendous amount of energy until they emerge from their slumber.

Iowa Winter Wonder Birds

Bald eagles are starting to nest this month. Check along rivers where old trees stand and look for these eagle's massive nests. Below dams provide a perfect location to view bald eagles. Would you like more guidance on where to search for these birds? Join us on February 22nd at several different locations around Saylorville Lake and the Des Moines River for the Bald Eagle Watch. Stop by the Saylorville Visitors Center to learn about our national symbol. Then venture out to different areas around the lake to observe them in their natural setting. The Jester Park Lodge will be hosting a live eagle used for education. Hourly programs at 1, 2, and 3:00 p.m. will give you a close look at this amazing species.

This is also a great time to listen for owls. Great Horned Owls are nesting as well this month.  Any of our parks provide the opportunity to catch a glimpse of these creatures of the night. Best places to call and spot an owl in our parks include Jester Park, Yellow Banks Park, and Thomas Mitchell Park in the evening. 

Whether cozied up for a long winter's nap, adapting to the changing landscape, or hitting the proverbial road out of town, animals of all shapes and sizes find ways to make it through to the final spring thaw. We look forward to seeing you, our favorite local wildlife, in our parks and along our trails through every amazing season in Iowa!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gear Up For Winter Fun

 At every twist and turn in our county parks during the snowy, blustery months of winter lies the opportunity to enjoy the season to the fullest. Turn up the heat and hit the trails during these frosty months! Join our naturalists when they host a variety of activities throughout the season. From snowshoeing to cross country skiing, from ice fishing to winter hiking, we have it all for every interest, ability and age! Our online calendar is full of opportunities to get outdoors and explore a new skill or hobby. You can also keep updated on upcoming events and more by liking us on Facebook and following on Twitter.

Already have the know-how to set out on your own but you are in need of outfitting? We have rental equipment available just for you! Call us at Jester Park, Monday-Friday, at 515-323-5339 for snowshoes and cross-country ski gear needs. Skis, boots, and poles run $8/day, and snowshoes run $7/day.

Recommended Trails

Cross Country Ski Trails (trails will be groomed after a snowfall over six inches):

At Jester Park (ski trail map), over 5 miles of trails will lead skiers through the woods, near Saylorville Lake, and along the edge of the golf course. Shelter #2 serves at the trailhead.

Following the oxbows of the old Skunk River channel and winding through the woodlands, Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (ski trail map - blue routes) is perfect for those preferring a flatter terrain. Many different loops will be groomed, all beginning from the campground.

Snowshoe Trails:

Brown’s Woods, All trails are great for snowshoeing in this preserve
Yellow Banks Park, Savanna Trail
Easter Lake Park, Wymore Trail
Fort Des Moines Park, Aspen and Bur Oak Trails
Jester Park, Hickory Ridge Trail

 Winter Recreation Tips

Start Warm, Stay Warm: Layers are a winter-enthusiast's friend! Bundle up your looser outerwear with snug-fitting base layers such as long underwear or synthetic wicking material that still allow for plenty of movement while retaining heat. Designer tags are not needed - stick to wool, fleece and synthetic materials (polyester, polyproplene, etc.) to keep you warm. Avoid cotton as sweat does not wick away as easily causing this material to lose its insulation properties when wet. Nothing puts a damper on a great winter hike than the quick chill that sets in under a damp cotton layer!
And don't forget your waterproof/windproof/breathable outer gear - this layer allows moisture to escape the body while preventing wind and any precipitation from reaching your skin.
Hot Hands and Feet: Make sure fingers and toes stay warm with proper gloves and socks. Pack along a set of handwarmers to slide into boots or mitts for an extra kick of heat if needed along the trail. 

Fuel Up: Preparing for a fun-filled winter day requires more than just gearing up with the right equipment and clothing. Start the day right by energizing your body for the adventure ahead by properly fueling and hydrating. Consuming a proper mix of carbohydrates and proteins will make certain your tank remains full throughout your venture out into the cold. Starting and staying well-hydrated will ensure an enjoyable day by keeping you focused and energized. Pack a water bottle and snacks to keep you going.

Avoid the Burn: Snow is highly reflective. Be sure to apply sunscreen even on a cloudy day. You may not be aware of a burn until you're greeted by a red-faced reflection in the mirror the next day.