“We use trees for gum, toilet paper, cardboard, toothpaste,” Hannah said. “I never knew that.”
Hannah was taking part in the environmental education program put on for the last three years by the U.S. Forest Service’s Shoal Creek Ranger District in the Talladega National Forest. The district partnered with the Friends of Talladega Forest, the Jacksonville State University Field School, the Cleburne County Extension Service, the Heflin Volunteer Fire Department and Cleburne County Search and Rescue to put on the program, said Karen McKenzie, district ranger. Wednesday’s session was the second of seven scheduled for June and July this year, she added.
Wednesday, the children were learning about plants at four activity stations – recycling, plant identification, a tree game and why plants are important.
Jimmy Triplett, an assistant professor at JSU, was teaching the children about plant identification as he led them along one of the trails. He pointed out poison ivy, Virginia creeper - which Triplett said many people mistake for poison ivy – New Jersey tea, muscadine, milkweed and blueberry bushes that were growing along the trail. He explained how we use the plants and how the different plants reproduce.
Back in Shakespeare’s day, he told the children as he pointed out some ferns, people thought that because they never saw a flower or a seed on a fern, they must be invisible.
“And if you could find the flowers and seeds, you’d be invisible, too,” Triplett said.
Today, people understand that the fern reproduces with spores, not flowers and seeds, he added.
Triplett said he volunteered for the program because he wanted to help the children on their way to being able to identifying the diverse plant life in Alabama.
“I want the kids to learn about the different types of plants and the different uses of plants,” Triplett said.
McKenzie said that’s what the program is all about - getting kids outside and learning about nature. She has heard time and again from parents who attend the program with their children that it’s been years since they’d been to the park, McKenzie said.
“We’re trying to reignite that desire to get out (in nature),” McKenzie said. “We want to teach kids about nature because you protect what you love.”
She hopes the families will stay after the session to enjoy swimming and picnicking in the park, and day use fees are waived for the day, McKenzie said.
The program is free to participants. The Friends of Talladega National Forest provide snacks and any fees to have speakers, she said. The Forest Service only has to provide time and personnel, she added. The program has been successful, she said. Some of the sessions have drawn 200 children, McKenzie said.
Some families come back time after time. Lindsey Cline, said this is the second year she has attended with her four children.
It not only gets them out from in front of the television, but they are learning about their environment, Cline said.
“If they don’t learn now, they’re likely to grow up and become part of what’s destroying the world,” Cline said.
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.