Camping school

Danette Dooley
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Nothing wrong with adding a little learning to your camping fun thats what these Butterpot regulars say

Butterpot interpreter Andrea Martin teaches (from left) Brandon Fitzgerald, Greg Didham, Kevin Ellsworth, Brandon Ellsworth and Alyssa Ellsworth about sweet gale. Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

He has yet to celebrate his 11th birthday, but Brandon Fitzgerald of Mount Pearl is already a veteran camper and naturalist. Ive been coming here since I was 18 months old and my dad has been coming since he was five years old, Brandon says, sitting on a green picnic table next to his friends at Butterpot Provincial Park.

Brandon wears a dark green T-shirt that displays the provinces official flower, the pitcher plant.

While campers are tempted to treat the squirrels and chipmunks that scurry close to their picnic tables to a few pieces of bread, Brandon cautions that thats not the thing to do.

If they get used to people just giving them the food, theyll lose their hunting instinct. And what happens then, when people are not around to feed them? Theyll just die of starvation.

A couple of years ago, Brandon says, a woodpecker had her babies in a tree on his familys campsite.

All Id hear was chirping and the mothers peck, peck, peck, he says, knocking on the picnic table.

When their mother was gone for about five minutes, theyd get curious and pop out their little heads. They had a beak no more than an inch-and-a-half long and they were no more than seven centimetres tall and they had three, small red stripes on their head.

Thirteen-year-old Alyssa Ellsworth is also from Mount Pearl.

Alyssa says shes learned the importance of respecting nature from the interpretation programs offered at the park.

Even though Im older than a lot of the kids here, I still enjoy it. And my brothers enjoy it, too, she says of 11-year-old Brandon and eight-year-old Kevin who are sitting nearby, vying for some attention.

The boys friend, 12-year-old Greg Didham from Mount Pearl, is also camping with the family this weekend.

Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Andrea Martin is a park interpreter technician with the Department of Environment and Conservations parks and natural areas division.

A graduate of Academy Canadas natural resources technology program, Martin has been the interpreter at Butterpot Provincial Park for the past six years.

She teaches children and adults about the parks 2,833 hectares of varied terrain and vegetation, forests, bogs, heaths and ponds.

Today, we did a habitat hike and we looked at different animal and plant habitat and what sort of things grow in the park, Martin says.

Important message

Martin says the most important message to be relayed to those visiting the park is that all wildlife, plants and flowers and everything else in the park, right down to its beach rocks, is to be preserved and protected.

In addition to leading campers on hiking trails, Martin also organizes nature-craft sessions and games, and invites families to a weekly campfire sing-a-long.

The parks amphitheatre is a gathering place for families to watch videos under the stars.

Numerous organizations, including the Central Avalon Ground Search and Rescue (CAGSAR) and Transport Canada safe boating officials are also invited to the park to educate the children.

While park interpretation programs have been ongoing for decades, in recent years people are becoming more aware of the importance of preserving the environment, Martin says.

And when theyre in the park its a great time to do that. We have funding for our programs, my manager is very supportive and so are all the other staff in the park.

After the park closes to campers in the fall, Martin teams up with schoolteachers who bring their students in to learn about issues theyll likely be covering during the school year.

They learn everything from weather to habitats to trees, leaves and berries. Sometimes we compare pond and stream habitat and they learn what lives in a pond and what lives in a stream. We do an activity where they go and look for animal homes in the park.

A lover of the outdoors, Martin says having an opportunity to educate others is what makes her job so rewarding.

If people have a better understanding of the environment, they often come to appreciate it more and theres a good chance theyll look after it better, she says.

Organizations: Department of Environment and Conservations, Academy Canadas, Transport Canada

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Butterpot Provincial Park

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Recent comments

  • Jim
    July 18, 2014 - 18:44

    Last budget the Provincial Government put in a little known and largely overlooked cut to the Parks program. They cut all children activities from the provincial parks. No more campfires-sing along, no more nature hikes, no more water safety programs, no more wilderness survival for children (Hug-A-Tree Program). No more Saturday night movies, the park's amphitheatre which was a gathering place for families to watch videos under the stars sits idle. No more physical fitness for kids from organized games. Tomorrow is Parks Day ‪#‎parksday‬ A VERY low thing for the government to do by cutting this program from kids!!