Feast of fun and knowledge at EnviroFest

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It was like an all-you can eat environmental buffet for the more than 100 fourth-graders from four Marion County school districts that participated in the second annual EnviroFest event last Tuesday in Marion?s picturesque Central Park.

From 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., student groups cycled through eight stations that addressed topics ranging from the makeup of Kansas soil to the edible delight of whole wheat bread made from homegrown wheat.

?I thought it was just an excellent day all around,? said Peggy Blackman, who coordinated the event on behalf of the five sponsoring organizations: Marion Reservoir Water Restor?a?tion and Protection Strategy, Marion County Conservation District, Natural Resource Con?servation Service, Cottonwood River WRAPS and Marion County Extension Service.

?I heard good comments from the teachers, from the students and from the presenters,? she said.

Fourth-grade classes from Centre, Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody-Burns participated, plus some homeschool students.

They experienced the natural environment through a variety of presentations and activities:

? Kansas animals. Angela Anderson of Flint Hills RC&D exhibited several animals from the David Traylor Zoo in Emporia, including a snapping turtle, alligator turtle, a wester Kansas hognose snake, a rescued one-wing owl and the skins of a fox and coyote.

? Soil tunnel trailer. Developed by the Miami County Conservation District, the trailer?s exterior was painted to show the layers, colors and make-up of soil, and the interior showed some of the organisms that live in the soil. The trailer was manned by NCRS staffers Douglas Spencer and Dale Ehlers.

? Rainfall simulator. Grover DePriest and Douglas Svitak of the NCRS demonstrated how the amount and speed of rain erodes soil that is not protected by vegetation.

? Macroinvertebrates. Lloyd Davies, owner of Great Plains Computer in Marion, showed and talked about how bugs without backbones, mollusks and crustaceans indicate a lot about the quality of rivers and streams because they cannot live in polluted water.

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? Watershed on Wheels. Developed by the Smoky Hills River WRAPS Project and constructed by Fort Hays State University, the WOW trailer informed students about the importance of water quality and the environmental condition of their local watershed. Marion County extension agent Rickey Roberts led the presentation.

? Water cycle game. Officials from Milford Reservoir involved students in an exercise where they strung beads in a way that helped them better understand nature?s water cycle.

? Enviroscape. Led by Tonya Roberts, Marion County sanitarian and zoning officer, Enviro?scape is a simulation that allows students to manipulate certain activities within a local rural and urban environment to see how it affects water quality.

? Wheat. Mary Beth Bowers, representative of Kansas Wheat Commission and a local volunteer and farm wife, spent the day prior to EnviroFest grinding locally grown wheat and making and baking 15 loves of whole-grain wheat bread so each student could experience its healthy goodness. Each student ground wheat and heard about its many uses.

Teacher reactions

Teachers said the event was time well-spent for their students.

?The students were able to learn many new things about the environment,? said Gail Lorson from Centre. ?With the demonstrations and visuals, I feel the students will remember the important concept of taking care of our earth and the things on it.?

Rod Just, Hillsboro, said, ?It?s a great learning atmosphere since they are actually in nature?the park?while learning about environmental subjects. It?s a way to have eight different classes in one day that are taught by experts in each of those areas.

He added: ?Students get to meet adults from our county who actually work daily with the subjects that are taught.?

Raquel Riggs, from Peabody-Burns, said the event made her students more aware of the world around them by allowing them to experience firsthand live specimens.

?They learned that protecting our environment is important and that there are many creatures and animals that rely on the land and water other than just people,? she said.

New program

Blackman said EnviroFest essentially replaces the Earth Day events planned for sixth-graders in previous years by the Marion County Conservation District.

?They came to me and asked if they could work with me on presenting something for the fourth grade,? she said, because the state curriculum for fourth-graders includes an emphasis on water quality and conservation.

?The principals all recommended if we were going to provide education in that area for students, we would give it for the fourth grade,? Blackman said.

?I?m so very thankful that we had the presenters, the people who took time out of their busy schedules,? she added.

?It takes a lot of cooperation to pull this off, and I truly appreciate all the schools coming. We?d like to make this an annual event and have all the schools participate because a lot of work goes into it.?

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