Of all of the activities during a two-day nature camp, the last one was the best for Elise Olsen.
After grabbing a fishing pole and receiving help baiting the hook from Park Ranger Donna Stanley, the 7-year-old Seymour girl cast the line.
All of a sudden, the water bubbled and the bobber slipped into the pond, and Olsen reeled it in.
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On the hook was a crappie.
“That was amazing,” she said with a big smile. “My Uncle George is going to be so proud of me.”
Olsen had time to name the fish Guppy before Stanley helped her put it back into Discovery Pond at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour.
It all happened fast for Olsen, but it’s something she will remember for quite a while.
“I’ve been fishing before and I’ve caught none. This is my first one,” she said. “I cannot believe I caught one.”
There’s no question that was Olsen’s highlight during the inaugural Fun with Nature Day Camp, which was a partnership between Purdue Extension Jackson County and the refuge.
“I love nature because we go fishing and I caught a fish, and it’s just so fun when you get to pick flowers,” Olsen said. “This was so fun.”
She was among nearly 40 boys and girls in kindergarten through sixth grade who participated in the camp, which was five hours Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s just an opportunity to get some nature education out to the kids and give them exposure to not only nature, but we have a great resource here with the wildlife refuge that a lot of the general public doesn’t realize what’s here,” said Richard Beckort, extension educator for agriculture and natural resources.
On Monday, the kids saw a variety of wildlife, including butterflies, dragonflies, tadpoles, frogs, bees, centipedes and more.
Molly Marshall, extension educator for health and human sciences, said on one of the bus rides out to a trail, a deer ran across the road, drawing reactions from the kids.
“You never know what you’re going to see,” she said.
Also that day, Marshall led the kids through a scavenger hunt, Beckort helped them make seed bombs and Heather VonDielingen, Jackson County 4-H youth development educator, had them draw their own habitats.
Then Tuesday, Beckort educated kids about trees and leaves and had them make leaf rubbings; Marshall showed them ways to be active outside and encouraged them to stretch and drink water; and VonDielingen let them listen to and see different types of birds and other wildlife before making bird feeders.
Tuesday ended with the youth practicing casting a line and learning how to tie fishing knots before walking to Discovery Pond to test their skills.
Nathaniel Conyer, 10, of Brownstown said he liked fishing and learning about a variety of topics at the camp.
While he didn’t reel in any fish, he got to watch someone else in his group catch one and release it.
“I like to go camping and be outdoors, it’s healthy for you and I like to learn things I didn’t learn before,” he said of why he chose to attend the camp.
VonDielingen said it’s important for kids to get outside, get off of their electronic devices and enjoy nature.
“They’ve all learned that it’s good for their health this week, and just anything that we can offer positive youth development, positive learning experiences, we just try to create them,” she said.
Some of the kids had been to the refuge before, but a few were there for the first time.
Marshall said it’s good to bring them to a place that’s within Jackson County.
“We went to a hiking trail that had signage up from our CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) grant, so it was kind of exposing them to things that they can hopefully bring their families back to and continue to do,” she said. “You can come here and fish. You can come here and hike. There are all kind of birds.”
Beckort said the focus was to inspire the kids so they return to the refuge with their families.
“Get them out, get them moving, get them not only to learn about nature but also the physical aspects of getting them out and walking the trails,” he said. “Just to get that little spark that, ‘I’m interested in nature. Let’s go find out more about it,’ we just want to plant the seed and watch it grow.”
Stanley said the refuge was glad to partner with Purdue Extension Jackson County for the camp.
“We’re happy to have them use the facility. It’s a wonderful program they’ve got. We’re very happy to have them here,” she said after helping kids fish.
She said she hopes the kids learned how much fun it is to be outdoors.
“Connecting with nature is something we really want to encourage kids to do,” Stanley said. “They don’t get the opportunities these days they used to, so this is wonderful. We certainly encourage any kind of outdoor activity like this.”
Along with the refuge, Purdue Extension Jackson County partnered with the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department to provide a bus for rides to the trail.
“That’s what we’re all about is building up community partnerships,” VonDielingen said. “We’re all here together working for the same community members, so any time we can do that, we just have a stronger community.”
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