Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin points out a red-backed vole to the group of 15 in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin points out a red-backed vole to the group of 15 in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Wildlife refuge learning program takes hands-on approach

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, August 2, 2014 10:45pm
  • News

In the dense forest behind the Kenai Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, standing beside one of the 11 cabins erected by Andrew Berg, Hamilton Hunt helped Park Ranger Leah Eskelin read the data on a small black device she held in her hand. The two were able to determine that the partly cloudy day’s temperature was 63 degrees with 86 percent humidity, Saturday on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail.

The group of fifteen children and parents surrounding Eskelin and her assistant wrote the findings down in their handmade stick and rubber band nature journals.

The walk was the second to last of the refuge’s Family Explorer Program walks. Beginning in the lobby of the visitor’s center the quarter-mile stretch through sun-touched black spruce, with stops to check out Devil’s Club, lichen and a red-backed vole.

“You see it?” Eskelin asked pointing at the furry creature, sitting only meters from the trail. “It’s unusual for them to stay this close. This one I guess lives near the trail and has become slightly used to humans.”

Hunt and his two sisters clustered with the other younger walkers around Eskelin to seek out the tiny rodent among the thick layers of brush. His mother Stephanie Hunt stood in the back with their family friends Rob Carson and Rinna Carson.

Rinna Carson said the two families decided to wrangle their kids for the weekend program after seeing a listing on the refuge’s Facebook page.

Eskelin said the family programs are held at the refuge every summer. This year they decided to add a hands-on element to each activity.

The walks are catered for all ages, Eskelin said. From toddlers who can’t write yet, but are able to draw, to parents taking their kids out into the wild. She said it also works for all kinds of learners.

“Some people learn visually, some are kinesthetic,” Eskelin said. “It’s also just more fun to learn through hands on activities.”

Randy Lightfoot attended Saturday’s walk with his mother Kristi Lightfoot and his sister Taylor Lightfoot. He said he enjoys attending refuge activities because they take him into the wilderness.

The Lightfoots often take walks around the refuge together, and attend movie screenings at the visitor center. Randy Lightfoot said during the family explorer program he learned the names of several plants.

Kristi Lightfoot said she takes her two homeschooled children to the Refuge programs because it is another method she found that they enjoy learning.

Eskelin said the programs are never cancelled due to bad weather. She said some of the best walks she has been on this summer were during or right after rain.

The refuge has a set of 30 digital cameras used for teaching purposes, Eskelin said. A handful of the explorer programs used digital photography as a way of teaching about the area, she said.

Once after an early morning rain, with all the undergrowth covered in dewdrops, it made for beautiful photographs, and turned the walk into a lesson on how the forest uses rain to grow.

Eskelin said this summer the number of participants in the family programs vary from 7-33. Each activity is completely free and requires no preregistration.

The final Family Explorer program will be held Saturday, August 8 at 2 p.m. Randy Lightfoot said he will be sure to be there.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Aiden Hunt gets help putting together her nature diary from her mother Stephanie Hunt during the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Aiden Hunt gets help putting together her nature diary from her mother Stephanie Hunt during the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin talks about Andrew Berg's diaries to the group of 15 in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin talks about Andrew Berg’s diaries to the group of 15 in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Angela Johnson and Nicole Johnson draw dried mushrooms they found on the ground during their walk in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Angela Johnson and Nicole Johnson draw dried mushrooms they found on the ground during their walk in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge park ranger Leah Eskelin talks about what it was like to sleep in a log cabin in the middle of winter to her groupd of participants in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Kenai Wildlife Refuge park ranger Leah Eskelin talks about what it was like to sleep in a log cabin in the middle of winter to her groupd of participants in the Family Explorer Program, Saturday, August 2, 2014, on the Keen-Eye Nature Trail in Soldotna.

More in News

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
KPBSD schools to start 2 hours late Tuesday

Due to weather, all but 4 schools will be delayed

Most Read