Tat-tat-tatted up… Pollinator style.

That's me, Emily Peters, on the top right with a hummingbird puppet on my finger. Yes, a finger puppet.

That’s me, Emily Peters, on the top right with a hummingbird puppet on my finger. Yes, a finger puppet. I recently started as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

EVERYTHING in town stops for the Mountain State Forest Festival. Seriously, for almost a whole week, the humble little town of Elkins, West Virginia, comes to a screeching halt.

Businesses close, roads are blocked and the locals flee. I didn’t realize it, but this festival is kind of a big deal. Apparently, it reaches about 75,000+ visitors each year. Crazy!

So clearly, as an AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia office in Elkins, there was no way that I was not going to be a part of Forest Festival. Not to mention that the event lined up with my goals for working with the Service: to increase and strengthen environmental education and outreach programs to connect communities to the natural world, increase awareness of local environmental issues, and to promote environmental stewardship; and to mold the minds of children into becoming the best, most environmentally-conscious and eco-friendly superstars you have ever known!

Here's the real deal - a ruby-throated hummingbird. Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS

Here’s the real deal – a ruby-throated hummingbird. Credit: Bill Thompson/USFWS

Cindy Phillips, park ranger at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, teamed up with me to pull together activities for this year’s theme: pollinators! These hard-working animals help pollinate over 75 percent of our flowering plants, and nearly 75 percent of our crops. While we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar, we know we’d be in loads of trouble without them.

Thus, the ball got rolling. Cindy gathered goodies from the refuge to give away, in addition to all the tent and display materials. Oh, and let’s not forget the pollinator corn-hole game! I mounted some fun pollinator posters and created a game called Pollination Partners, where kids match the pollinator to the appropriate flower. Our pollinator coloring pages had an added bonus: a space for kids to write how they can help our pollinator friends. Kate Goodrich-Arling from the U.S. Forest Service joined us to add even more interactive games and goodies like a pollinator maze, pollinator hopscotch and temporary tattoos!

Before we knew it, Forest Festival was upon us.

AmeriCorps member, Rachel Fedders, who serves at Canaan Valley NWR. Helping kids to match the pollinator to the type of flower they like to pollinate. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

AmeriCorps member, Rachel Fedders, who serves at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Helping kids to match the pollinator to the type of flower they like to pollinate. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

The first battle was getting through Kids Day, which could be seen as a sort of game for our two agencies.

A game of who-can-wrangle-the-most-groups-of-kids-and-spit-out-pollinator-facts-in-the-shortest-amount-of-time.

In this game, it is every man for himself, as you try not to drown in the sea of small children (who seemingly have no sense of personal space) as they come to you in waves by the hundreds. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. I honestly had a great time talking to kids about how awesome pollinators are, despite the exhaustion at the end.

 Myself (right) and Mimi Gunderson (left), teaming up to explain why pollinators are so important. Mimi is another AmeriCorps member serving at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

Myself (right) and Mimi Gunderson (left), teaming up to explain why pollinators are so important. Mimi is another AmeriCorps member serving at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

Once we got through the waves of children, it was all fun and games. We busted out the pollinator maze, hopscotch and corn-hole. AmeriCorps members even created an extreme version of hopscotch which involved balance, the ability to spin, and corn-hole aiming skills. We had to forgo adding a ring of fire, at least for this year…

All in all, Forest Festival was a lot of fun. I walked away from the festival tatted-up with pollinator images and a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. I was reminded why I love what I do so much; seeing the light bulb turn on in kids heads when I teach them about why pollinators are so important. Even the simplest connection can make a difference.

Mimi Gunderson, helping to run other various pollinator activities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife S tent

Mimi Gunderson, helping to run other various pollinator activities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tent. Credit: Tamara Lewis/USFWS

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