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Love those critters

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Hunting for animal tracks was great, splashing in the pond was terrific and all the games and crafts were a lot of fun.

But it was the animals that kids who attended a spring break camp hosted by the county last week can’t stop talking about.

“We got to touch a snake,” exclaimed Ella Grace Bodie, 10, a Waccamaw Intermediate School student.

She wasn’t afraid, she added. She liked the snake, but the animals she liked best were the turtles.

The campers got to see a box turtle, a yellow-bellied slider and a diamondback terrapin on Wednesday, in addition to the snake. That was reptile day at the five-day “Crazy Critters” camp in Litchfield.

Each day had a different theme. Kids started the week by studying insects (“the good, the bad and the bugly”), then moved on to amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

“We studied all kinds of animals and we went on trails,” said Eden Malinski, 8, a Waccamaw Elementary School student. “And we got to touch the bones of opossums and beavers and stuff.”

Each day also brought different live animals to correspond with the theme.

Under the watchful eye of naturalist Jerry Walls, kids were introduced — and in some cases got hands-on — with creatures including a tarantula, toad, spotted salamander, corn snake, milk snake and alligator.

On Friday, the last day of camp, Walls brought in an opossum, much to the kids’ delight.

They exclaimed over his soft fur and giggled at his sleepy yawns.

Walls said it’s amazing to watch the kids get comfortable with animals. For many of them, it’s their first experience with wildlife.

“They’re apprehensive at first, he said. “But, you talk about an animal and they get excited. They’re all sitting down on the floor and you can see them scooting closer and closer, then, they’re wanting to touch it.”

By Thursday, Walls said the kids were so excited about meeting more live animals, they started going through his car, trying to find the animals of the day.

He said he loves the enthusiasm and eagerness kids have for new subjects.

“When you bring out the animals, adults start to migrate to the back of the room,” he said. “They already have that mind set that snakes are bad, but kids still have an open mind.”

He said that’s why he believes it’s important to expose them to wildlife at an early age.

It allows them to develop an appreciation and respect for animals, he said. And it lays the groundwork for creating the next generation of conservationists.

“They might not become veterinarians or zookeepers, but they learn about animals and why it’s important to keep them around,” Walls said. “And I think they’ll be more well-rounded adults.”

More than just getting kids excited about wildlife, it gets them excited about nature.

“Kids don’t experience nature anymore the way they used to,” Walls said. “When’s the last time you saw a kid climbing a tree?”

The camp encouraged kids to change that, and judging from the shrieks and laughter, they loved it. They took nature walks, looked at animal tracks and played on a Slip ‘N Slide.

“We had a scavenger hunt, too,” said Olivia Welsh, 9, a Waccamaw Elementary School student. “And we tasted yellow jasmines we thought were honeysuckles.”

Ponds on the Litchfield property where the camp was held, the future site of a county park complex, were a particular draw.

“They started out investigating what was around the pond,” Walls said. “Then they kept edging closer and closer. We told them they could get in to their knees, then they were going out deeper and deeper.”

No one was allowed to wade in too deep, but they got soaked and filthy. Some of the parents didn’t like it, so it was a one-day only activity, but the kids loved it.

Jennifer Bodie, Ella Grace’s mom, said she sent all three of her kids, ages 5 to 9 to “Crazy Critters” and it’s the best camp they’ve ever participated in.

“They just loved it,” she said. “Every morning they got up and did what they were supposed to do so they could get there and didn’t want to be picked up early.”

She and her husband paid a surprise visit to the camp one day and said it was obvious the kids were having a great time.

“My kids are active,” she said. “They love being outside, so being able to bring them here and let them be out here all day, it’s great. They came home happy.”

Georgetown County will have another Crazy Critters camp with Walls this summer and the spring break campers were already asking about it last week.

Summer camp will run for eight weeks starting June 7. Each week will have a different theme and will include a field trip.

The camp is open to kids ages 5 to 12. The cost is $75 a week and kids can sign up for one week or several, but space is limited.

In addition to the themes from spring break camp, campers will study birds, trees and nocturnal animals.

For information, call 545-3531.

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