Mar. 10—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Six-year-old Madison Stephenson was turning one of the Stonycreek River’s most prominent pollutants into colorful chalk Saturday at Bottle Works.

Nearby, Prince Gallitzin State Park Manager Jess Lavelua was showing local families how to identify Pennsylvania’s native pine trees.

And Vincent Orlovsky, 4, was dipping Spruce needles into green paint to color a picture of the tree.

It was all part of an event designed to bring the outdoors indoors.

Saturday marked the seventh annual NatureWorks — a daylong event by Bottle Works and Penguin Court aimed at introducing local families to the Laurel Highlands’ environment and outdoor recreation opportunities.

While rain fell outside, hundreds of area families explored hands-on exhibits by 25 Cambria, Somerset and Westmoreland county environmental groups, state agency partners and outdoors organizations

To event organizers Sue Konvolinka, a Bottle Works member, and Brandywine Conservancy’s Melissa Reckner, the mission is twofold.

The interactive displays are designed to introduce all ages to the region’s natural environment — whether it’s the feel of the fur of a wild backyard raccoon or fox, how to hand-tie flies for stream fishing or differentiate between Pennsylvania’s native eastern hemlock from other conifers.

“It’s also about introducing them to all of the outdoors groups that are working to make Laurel Highlands such a great place to live,” Reckner said. “Because they don’t get the opportunity to market themselves very often.”

Yamila Audisio of Westmont praised the event.

Her son Vincent “plays outdoors all the time,” she said.

Now, when he sees some of Pennsylvania’s native plants or wildlife sounds, he’ll be able to identify them, Audisio said.

“I like that everyone here is focused on the native plants and animals of Pennsylvania,” she said, calling the idea behind NatureWorks “awesome.”

Kayla Stephenson of Brownstown agreed.

She said her family has been coming to the event for years.

The timing is perfect, she said, noting that the hands-on activities get her kids excited to explore outdoors again, just as Spring is approaching.

Alongside her, Madison Stephenson, 6, was holding a bag that containing wildflower seed pods she planted.

Moments earlier, she mixed water with iron oxide to make a piece of maple leaf-shaped chalk.

“It’s fun,” she said, adding that she was excited to draw with it at home.

The Stonycreek River Improvement Project has spent decades working to remove the substance from the local waterway and its tributaries.

For SCRIP member Karlice Makuchan, Saturday’s event was chance to explain to families not only how retention pond systems help beautify local waterways — but how even the pollutant itself can create beauty.

Iron oxide removed from the ponds are sanitized, dried and recycled to color brick, pottery and other art, displays at their table showed.

“It’s not just about educating our children about the impact,” she said. “We want to make sure adults understand it, too.”

Reckner agreed.

But she noted the lessons learned now can also have an impact on the future.

“The kids here today are our future leaders,” she said. “It’s important to introduce them to conservation now … so they understand how important it is.”

Konvolinka saw reasons for optimism.

“You look around, and you can see how excited they are,” she said, surrounded by a crowd of young families. “You don’t see one cellphone in their hands … and to me that’s a great sign.”

Source link