published Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

County program uses nature as textbook

by Dan Whisenhunt
  • photo
    Staff photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press -Mary Beth Sutton, guest speaker at Life in the Pond, shows the effects of run-off water to children on Friday afternoon at the Enterprise South Nature Park.

Beyond the Volkswagen plant, where crews work like ants constructing the new $1 billion auto assembly plant, a group of hikers marches through the woods.

They stop at a pond, a little body of water loud with the sounds of croaking frogs and tucked away in the county's yet-to-open Enterprise South Nature Park.

The hikers, led by park supervisor Tom Lamb, move under a tent sheltering some chairs.

"Did anybody get lost?" he asks as about 20 people, a mix of adults and children, smelling of bug spray and sunscreen, take their seats.

The pond's slowly moving water swarms with dragonflies and tall blades of grass whip in the wind. Bare trees poke toward the sky like witches' fingers. Not a good place to swim perhaps, but a good place to study water ecosystems.

"It's summertime, I know," Mr. Lamb said, picking up a marker and standing in front of a whiteboard. "Nobody wants to be in school."

Under the tent, Maureen Davis, programming specialist for the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department, and local environmental nonprofit director Mary Beth Sutton were waiting for the group.

Ms. Sutton runs Kids for Clean Water, part of Caribbean Student Environmental Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works with island nations on local environmental projects, which is under her watch, too. She was there helping with the county's educational Life in a Pond project.

"Everybody has personal responsibility for keeping the water clean," she said. "Everybody's backyard impacts water because we've shifted from rural populations to urban populations."

She grabbed a long pole with a net on the end. After Mr. Lamb told the children what ecosystems were all about, Ms. Sutton invited the groups to probe the shallows of the murky water, to see how murky it really was, what its pH balance was. She wanted them to know even something as unhandsome as a slow-churning pond teemed with a diversity of life.

The parents looked on. Bryan Phillips was there with his son, Sterling, 13. He said he wanted him to come away from the program more aware that what he does with regard to his environment matters. Preston Lamb, 12, who is the nephew of Tom Lamb, said he learned the biosphere is just another name for Earth and learned the top two polluters are "poop and dirt."

But wasn't he getting short-changed on his summer vacation by learning?

"It's not too bad," he said. "I'm learning stuff but it's not boring stuff. It's pretty interesting."

Continue reading by following this link to related story:

Article: A sampling of ideas to keep the kids entertained over summer vacation

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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