The morning of Tuesday, October 23 saw rain and cloudy skies about an hour before our project was about to start. With a little bit of luck and sunshine, the rain stopped and the temperature was cool and windy just in time for the 83 school kids, chaperones, and teachers to arrive at Petobego State Game Area just south of Elk Rapids. The bus rolled up and unloaded the eager and energetic kids who were greeted by myself and Education Director Shaun McKeon. Shaun gave a brief welcome and introduction of the project: building brush piles for rabbit habitat. The students were too excited to wait for word on our official work site, so they began building piles in the very patch of woods that were were waiting in. After a short (and very productive) couple of minutes, DNR Wildlife Technician Tim Lyon with the Traverse City Field Office joined us and led the group down to the adjacent dam and explained troubles with invasive species in the area as well as nuisance native species that sometimes make management a difficult task.
After the conversation, questions, and discussion, we headed across the street to our worksite for the day. In the preceding days to the project, DNR staff felled trees to prepare for the student’s arrival. We gathered as a group around one of them and Tim explained the ideal method behind the business of building rabbitat: the hefty logs go on the bottom, the whispy branches on top. After this demonstration, kids broke off into their assigned chaperone groups and began to work away. Adults were given tools such as hand saws and loppers to make the job slightly easier and more efficient, and kids were in charge of working together to carry branches and construct the habitat themselves.
The group saw a couple hours of work before we paused for a well deserved fruit snack and water break. This provided the opportunity to reflect on the work that had been done, and hopes for what we aimed to accomplish before the work concluded at lunch time. Before we knew it, kids were voluntarily on their feet without any persuasion and ready to continue making a difference for their local wildlife populations. At the conclusion of the work portion, twenty rabbit brush piles had been built and the students were definitely ready for lunch.
The hot pizza from Cone Corral was a welcome change of pace from the cool, chilly air of the day and, let’s be honest, what kid doesn’t love pizza? When the trash was thrown away and stomachs were full, we got going with the fun portion of the afternoon: archery, waterfowl ID, and Shaun’s infamous pheasant game. The excitement was abundant, but thankfully did not distract the kids from the importance of safety and being good listeners, especially on the archery range. We got all 70 students through all three stations in (what I would consider) record time due to their excellent listening skills, positive attitudes, and incredibly helpful and encouraging teachers and chaperones.
I spent my afternoon on the archery range and there was always an abundance of smiles and laughter ringing out. For those who had never shot a bow before, it was a fun and engaging experience with their friends. As I was standing on the line, I could hear the other groups laughing and see them running around playing the pheasant game that teaches kids the importance of population and predator dynamics. I also witnessed our third group picking up different kinds of duck decoys that are native to Michigan and working with their friends to identify them. When everyone had made their way through all three activities, it was time to pack up and head back to the buses.
Shaun, myself, and Tim saw the kids off and finished picking up the last materials left in the field. The day certainly wouldn’t have been possible without Tim’s help with preparing the work site, showing the kids how to build the brush piles, and he event went as far as to stick around for our afternoon activities and help out with the pheasant game. We’re incredibly thankful to have him and the DNR staff in the region be so willing to help the OTG program and get kids and adults alike involved in their local landscape.
On The Ground was thankful to be a part of this day with the kids, their teachers, and the chaperones. It was a great day for conservation and team work, and witnessing the enthusiasm the kids had for the task at hand was an excellent reminder of why I love my job as much as I do.