Jeremy Darst of Whitewater State Park shows a fox snake to Houston County sixth-graders.
Jeremy Darst of Whitewater State Park shows a fox snake to Houston County sixth-graders.

Oct. 1 dawned bright and balmy at Camp Winnebago, where an estimated 235 students from throughout Houston County arrived for the 16th annual Sixth Grade Environmental Field Day.

Set amidst the sprawling campground, eight outdoor classrooms featured presenters focusing on everything from fish and wildlife, to electrical safety, to wetlands, fire safety, soil conservation, and rattlesnakes. The event was hosted once again by the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, with presenters from several other state, federal, and local agencies.

Programs focused primarily on natural resources. Students were challenged to learn more about the special corner of the state they live in, including rare plant and animal communities and the healthy soils which they (and humans) depend on.

One presentation that was popular with kids featured a live fox snake held by Jeremy Darst, naturalist from Whitewater State Park. Darst explained the importance of saving rare species, including the native timber rattlesnake.

Department of Natural Resources personnel did a little bit of electro-fishing in Winnebago Creek, and students marveled at their catch before it was safely returned to the cold, clean water.

Brad Pecinovsky of Tri-County Electric made sparks fly as he demonstrated the importance of being careful around the manmade environment of power transmission lines.

RRSWCD personnel, including District Manager Ron Meiners, spoke to students about conservation practices. "We brought our farm model down," he noted. "It was interesting because I'm going to retire in September of next year, so I told the last group of kids 'You're the last bunch of sixth-graders that I'll be talking to in my career.' They thanked me. It was a good time."

"When I talk to the kids down there, I always tell them that not only the RRSWCD, but all the agencies involved - all the resource agencies - that come down to talk to them are hoping that they will take something with them that day. Something they can use in their everyday lives that will help them take just a little bit better care of our natural resources and our environment, the environment that they live around every day. I feel they do, too. They take more with them than you think. I told the kids, 'The things that you do and hear have an impact on the community and what we do with our natural resources here in Houston County. It has to be a collaborative effort. Everybody has to be involved. Everybody has to make a small difference."