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Mobs of more than 600 fifth, sixth and seventh graders descended on the Wildcat Hills Nature Center on April 27-28 for a full slate of outdoor adventure and education.
Nebraska’s largest outdoor classroom, the Outdoor Discovery program, made its annual trek across Nebraska to encourage students to enjoy the outdoors. The action-packed program, sponsored by Nebraska Game and Parks, has visited the Panhandle every spring for 15 years.
“The Outdoor Discovery program is just a way for us to introduce outdoor skills, outdoor opportunities and introduce Nebraska state parks to youth,” program coordinator Julie Plugge said.
Students from the nine participating schools flooded three areas of the Wildcat Hills with students eager to get wet catching fish or learn about the power of pollinating insects. Schools participating over the course of two days were: Alliance Middle School, Bluffs Middle School, Garden County Schools, Potter-Dix, Westmoor Elementary; Bayard Elementary, Creek Valley Elementary, Geil Elementary and Sidney West Elementary. Game and Parks staff, along with volunteers, maned 16 stations providing 40 minutes of hands-on fun facts geared to spike the interest of young minds.
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The Wildcat Hills Nature Center was the site of the hands-on learning and demonstration stations that included birds of Nebraska, reptiles and amphibians, pollinators, water, technology in nature, hiking trails, and small and big game.
The parks campground site gave students the chance to get moving and discover camping and gain an insight into geocaching. Students were also taught the intricacies of disk golf and outdoor cooking recipes which included campfire starters and s’mores.
A round at the shooting sports complex provided many kids with their first opportunity to shoot air rifles as well 3D archery and archery activities provided through the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP). Screams and splashes could be heard from children at the turtle and fish location when students where encouraged to catch a fish to learn more about it. Lastly, groups willing to trek to the furthest station were greeted by a volunteer in native prairie dress to learn the art of “hawk throwing” using various sizes of tomahawks.
“The program creates a diverse opportunity to explore what’s outdoors,” Plugge said. “We have so many kiddos anymore that just don’t get outdoors or recognize what is out there or have outdoor skills.”
Plugge explained that by bringing the Outdoor Discovery program to the Wildcat Hills in the spring, she hoped students would further explore what they learned over the course of the summer. The program stops in the Fort Kearney State Recreation area and the Platte River State Park in the spring and Ponca State Park in the fall.
“It’s been a lot of fun to be here at the Wildcat Hills,” Plugge said. “We get to introduce the park to many kids. Many of them don’t recognize that this opportunity is right here and we hope they come back some time on their own to continue to explore all it has to offer.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Outdoor Discovery held at Wildcats Hills
Nicole Heldt is a reporter with the Star-Herald, covering agriculture. She can be reached at 308-632-9044 or by email at [email protected].