Bringing nature inside four walls

Kristin Haider

Today you’re hearing from Kristin Haider, one of two AmeriCorps members working at our West Virginia Field Office. She is finishing her master’s degree in ecology from Penn State. Learn more about this AmeriCorps program.

Explore the inflatable bat cave. Watch a freshwater mussel lure fish. Stick your hand in a nature mystery box.

If you’d been with me over the past few months, you would have had a chance to try all of these things.

This past September, I joined the team at the Service’s West Virginia Field Office as an AmeriCorps member. I was thrilled to use my background in ecology and conservation, so I jumped right in and represented the Service at a number of outreach events this fall.

Inflatable bat cave at the Green Bank Science Center Open House and Family Science Day at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. Community members were invited to the observatory to take tours, watch demonstrations and participate in hands-on science activities.

I worked with other AmeriCorps members and U.S. Forest Service staff to give flashlight tours of an inflatable bat cave and talk about basic cave ecology and threats to West Virginia’s bats. The cave was a hit, and this year’s open house and family science day was the most successful to date with a record of 592 participants!

Kristin at the Mountain State Forest Festival. Credit: USFS

Kristin at the Mountain State Forest Festival. Credit: USFS

“Every species counts” at the 76th annual Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, W.Va. For this event, we staffed a large booth with the U.S. Forest Service and the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. Our message, “Every species counts,” focused on species of special concern in West Virginia.

The inflatable bat cave at the forest festival. Credit: Dan Arling/USFS

The inflatable bat cave at the forest festival. Credit: Dan Arling/USFS

We brought the inflatable bat cave, of course, and endangered species dioramas, freshwater mussel lure videos, a number of snakes – including a timber rattlesnake – and art projects for kids, such as making bat masks and painting freshwater mussel magnets. During the three-day festival, hundreds of people visited our booth. On the kid’s day alone, 1,200 local students visited the Mountain State Forest Festival, and many came eagerly to our booth.

Try your hand at a mystery box at Children’s Fall Festival in Buckhannon, W.Va., sponsored by Mountain CAP of West Virginia. This safe, educational Halloween event encouraged families to dress up in their costumes and trick-or-treat at tables set up by various organizations.

A princess explores the mystery box at the Children's Fall Festival. Credit: Molly Swailes

A princess explores the mystery box at the Children’s Fall Festival. Credit: Molly Swailes

In addition to Halloween candy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service table had information on freshwater mussels, a “Match the Mussel to its Name” game and a mystery box game that contained items including pinecones and snakeskin. Reaching into the mystery box was nerve-racking for some visitors, but most people enjoyed it – some even came back for another try!

Bringing the bat cave to school at the Green Bank Elementary School Fall Festival in Green Bank, W.Va. AmeriCorps members from the U.S. Forest Service and I set up the inflatable bat cave at this annual festival, where normal school activities were replaced with special events.

Every 30 minutes, a new class visited the bat cave. Students participated in an echolocation activity and were very interested to learn more about bats, cave ecology and white-nose syndrome – but they were even more interested in sharing what they had already learned about bats in class!

Talking to children at the Mountain State Forest Festival. Credit: Dan Arling/USFS

Talking to children at the Mountain State Forest Festival. Credit: Dan Arling/USFS

It was a busy but rewarding fall and I look forward to participating in more events like this throughout the following year. Stay tuned!

One Comment on “Bringing nature inside four walls

  1. Those sessions sounded so interesting. What a great opportunity for kids to become more involved with our natural world.

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