September 16, 2014

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Getting in touch with nature

Environmental Science Fair captivates area gifted students

SHEFFIELD — Ten-year-old Alex Walsh wants to become a writer someday and said she got plenty of inspiration Friday from Animal Planet’s Hero of the Year, Mona Rutger.

Rutger, who runs the Back to the Wild animal shelter in Castalia, showed about 250 gifted students at Lorain County Metro Parks French Creek Nature Center a foot-long African turtle and explained how its shell became deformed.

STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
Michael Socha (kneeling), a naturalist for Lorain County Metro Parks, talks to students from Durling Middle School in Sheffield Township during a nature hike Friday at the Environmental Science Fair at French Creek Reservation.

The humans who took the turtle from its natural environment fed the reptile, a vegetarian, the wrong kind of food, which caused the shell to grow the wrong way, Alex explained.

“Humans fed him dog food,” said Alex, a fifth-grader at Prospect Elementary School in Oberlin. “A lot of my books are about animals, and I could write something about humans mistreating animals.”

Rutger held the students spellbound as the keynote speaker at the Environmental Science Fair sponsored by the Lorain County Gifted Consortium, according to Rondell Belt, gifted coordinator for the Educational Service Center of Lorain County.

When students entered for the talk, Rutger had numerous animals on display including three kinds of owls and an eagle that had been blinded after contracting West Nile virus.

After hearing about Rutger’s rescue animals, the students broke into work sessions on a variety of topics.

Some kids learned how to use a compass for direction by walking around some of the 428 acres in the park, off Colorado Avenue west of state Route 301.

Others picked apart sanitized owl droppings to identify mice bones or other evidence of what the big birds had eaten.

“Garbage detectives” picked through a family’s waste to find out what they could about the people who generated it and what could be recycled, Belt said.

Another group of kids learned basic survival skills so they’ll know what to do if they ever find themselves lost in the wilderness.

Belt said this is the 12th year that French Creek has become “a classroom without walls” as students experienced hands-on learning from various experts.

Jen Echstenkamper, 12, said she really liked the scavenger hunt where she and other students at McCormick Middle School in Wellington found berries and petrified wood.

Science is really interesting when you can see and touch it, said Jen, who wants to become a marine biologist and help protect dolphins from the dangers of fishing nets and contamination.

“I like the way you can train them — they’re really smart,” Jen said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.