A green future and RVC Earth Day celebration April 24

Children need adults to encourage them in their explorations and adventures in nature if they are to develop what Rachel Carson called “a sense of wonder.” Those who have a family member to encourage their unstructured play are fortunate. For those who do not, outside agencies can fill the gap. The Rockford Park District offers programs that help children develop their appreciation of both nature and science.

We’re fortunate enough to have developed that sense and continue to help children develop it. “Let’s go to the Myscariest Beyond and see the Rink-Rinker-Fink” (a dinosaur face at the end of a dead box elder limb hanging over the river at the edge of a deep, dark forest) suggests our 3 year-old grandson when he visits us. Of course, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa are delighted to join in his adventure.

He has his Secret Garden, a hidden stand of ferns and mosses in the base of an abandoned silo. We quietly visit it and speak in hushed whispers. And the frog pond (an old watering tank) from which we rescued tadpoles to place in the “safer” fish pond.

His older brother has traveled more deeply into the mysterious dark forest with us. He’s had adventures and learned things from his new grandparents that are unusual for many modern suburban kids. Nearly 13, he’s old enough to burn prairie, and this year proudly displayed his ability to his “old” grandparents.

A few years ago, he spent a day exploring the Discovery Center with us, learning to understand and enjoy physics through play and activities. He still speaks of the experience with enthusiasm.

These children have the opportunity to spend time in the presence of adults who help them appreciate the real world of nature from which we all came and upon which we all depend. They are keeping the sense of wonder alive.

Local teachers we know have done outstanding jobs of keeping that sense alive in people. Don Miller at Severson Dells Nature Center provides opportunities for exploration, learning and adventure including nature study for children and adults alike and a “Blazing Paddles Youth Canoe Camp” for teens. Dr. Pond Scum, Rockford teacher Gary Pasch, enchants students with his aquatic antics as a brilliant, but slightly mad, scientist. Rich Benning, SDEF staff, focuses on lessening his ecological “footprint” by coordinating the Northwest Audubon Society’s annual “Food for Thought” conference. We are proud to claim Don, Gary and Rich as our former students.

The Rockford Park District and the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District are leading agencies working with the Rock River Valley’s “Green Communities” program (funded by a grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency). The project is developing a comprehensive long-range plan to deal with environmental issues in the Rock River Valley and to develop an environmental vision for Winnebago County. An initial public survey revealed that the public overwhelmingly endorses open space and environmental uses of tax dollars. The steering committee is composed of people from many natural resource-based agencies. One of the Rockford Park District’s representatives is Katy Townsend, another graduate of our program.

Although Aldeen Park’s environmental education center has been closed due to budgetary constraints, the Park District will continue the tradition of Earth Day by holding its celebration at Rock Valley College on Sunday, April 24, from 1-5 p.m. Last year, hundreds of children and their parents braved the rain for a day of education, inspiration and fun. The Park District further emphasized its environmental commitment by ordering E85s as replacement vehicles for its fleet.

Last November, Rock Valley College sponsored the first Midwest Environmental Ethics Conference, “Finding Our Voices.” Jay Friberg of RVC and Don Miller organized a set of sessions designed to help environmentalists work through the ethical threads that bind together their thinking and to “focus on the importance of environmental ethics in community decision making.” Such considerations should help develop a foundation on which to build.

Experiences such as those offered by the Park District, the forest preserves, the local colleges and others can help children develop a kinship with the natural world and adults continue that relationship and act positively on it.

From the April 20-26, 2005, issue

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