Excited screams and the sound of splashing water echoed up from the handful of children that gathered to learn about science at Myrtle Creek’s Evergreen Park.
Friday was the second day of the three day camp hosted by the Umpqua Natural Leadership Science Hub and the Myrtle Creek Library. Parents, Umpqua Community College students, UNLSH board members and kids ranging from age 7 to 14 had spent a day and a half learning about bugs, fish, water temperature and more.
“I think it is really important to have opportunities like this for youth,” said board member Summer Radon. “I’m a parent, so I know how technology can be pretty distracting for kids. This gets them outside and learning about nature and why it’s important.”
Radon is also a volunteer at the Myrtle Creek Library, where the students spend the second half of their day. The freedom to learn, Radon said, is what makes both portions of the day important.
Friday’s lessons were focused on aquatic bugs, led by instructor and UNLSH president Cindy Haws.
Haws was a wildlife biologist for many years who spent the last 15 years as an educator. She has worked with middle schoolers up to high school students and is currently an assistant professor of science at UCC.
The campers spent their morning collecting aquatic bugs in three different habitats, sorting out the different species and studying them. Many were excited to identify invasive crawfish and help remove them from the ecosystem.
Dawsun Larson, 7, Skylla Larson, 8, and Maeleigh Cooper, 8, all of Myrtle Creek were most excited about the lamprey they found, a species that has been in major decline over the last two decades.
Diana Larson, who was at the event, remembers when lampreys were all over the rivers she swam in.
“They’ve almost all just disappeared,” she said. “They provided a huge source of alternative food for everything that eats the salmon and now they are just gone.”
The rest of the day was focused on bumble bees, including the understanding that several Oregon species are almost extinct.
The third day was centered on identifying and casting animal tracks, as well as birdwatching and learning birdsongs.
Neither Haws or Radon want the learning experience to end with the camp. Along with the resources available at the library, UNLSH has provided each participant with a “sit-upon” bucket.
Each bucket provides most of the tools that were used during the camp, as well as a journal with information and a place to record findings. The kids decorated their own buckets, another way of connecting their interests with what they are learning.
“This is an experience in and of itself,” Radon said.
The group’s goal is to share that experience with everyone they can. This was the first science camp put together by the group in the two years it has been operating. Most of last year, members made almost weekly visits to Days Creek Charter School, a school which does not have the opportunity to explore science as in-depth, Haws said. They have also begun visiting schools in Myrtle Creek.
“Our focus is on outdoor science education,” Haws said. “And we feel that’s really important, especially these days.”
Haws said one student had never been in the water before, but because of the camp, he doesn’t want to leave it.
“It’s just amazing,” Haws said, before explaining to one camper how crawfish can regrow their appendages.