RUTLAND — “Head out from Rutland on New Lima Road,” said Jim Freeman when giving directions to the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District (MSWCD). “You can’t miss it.”
Ten years ago, that would not have been true. But after a decade of effort and improvements to the site by the county agency, Leading Creek Watershed is a busy learning spot for school groups and children from all over the state of Ohio.
On June 8-9, more than two dozen kids attended “Watershed Camp,” where MSWCD Education Coordinator Jenny Ridenour set them to electric fishing and tagging, exploring the wetlands, archery, habitat experiments, bird identification and more.
“It’s a whirlwind two days,” she said. “We have all sorts of experts come in and present to the kids alongside an activity, things to get them learning in nature.”
The campers, ages 5 through 14, moved from station to station and gained up-close experience with wildlife and the environment. A fisheries expert taught them stream sampling techniques using electric shocks to collect fish in nets, and a state conservation officer demonstrated how to properly net and record birds. The 150 square miles of the district gave plenty of space for exploring creeks and wetlands, and Ridenour herself delivered archery instruction.
“The wetlands hike involves a lot of bugs, and I mean, kids and bugs,” she said with a smile.
Several local businesses donated supplies for the two-day camp, which Ridenour said keeps such activities free to the public.
“The amount of management for this type of event is significant, but also so much fun,” she said.
The Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District is a county-funded agency and in turn receives 100 percent matched funding from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“Plenty of counties in Ohio can’t get funding from their local government, and get 100 percent matching of zero dollars. We are very fortunate to have commissioners that support what we are doing,” Ridenour said.
Wildlife Coordinator Jim Freeman said the camp gained steam over time, opening every year since 2005. In concert, Leading Creek Watershed has seen steady improvements and additions.
“It started out as just the other side of the highway,” he said. “There were no trails, no shelter, nothing like what is here now.”
Ridenour agreed, adding, “There was not even a bathroom, just a parking lot.”
Through steady efforts, the MSWDC team “developed it as a place to bring kids and school groups, and get their hands dirty learning,” Ridenour said. “We tie in so many aspects (of nature education and the environment), which is how these kids learn.
“Part of my job is also to go to schools and do programs in the classrooms. The teachers love it and the kids are always excited.”
Though the education coordinator is fully booked for next year, there is always more to delve into on site.
She says in recent years, many classrooms have drastically cut back on field trips — to the students’ detriment.
“At these ages, they need to be outside exploring,” she said.
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