All ages enjoy refuge day

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 23, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge’s John Fontenot talks to Leanetra Carter, 5, about black bears during the celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week Saturday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — Family was the word of the day Saturday at the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge hosted a celebration for National Wildlife Refuge Week, and outdoor lovers of all ages were in attendance to learn and play.

“The event (went) great,” refuge manager Bob Strader said. “We had a good turnout. The canoeing brought people in, and a lot of kids are doing the activities and seem to be enjoying them.”

The main attraction for many of the children was a baby Eastern Hognose snake that refuge biologist Kent Ozment found last weekend.

“This (activity) is educational,” Ozment said. “This is a unique snake. A lot of people see this snake and think it to be venomous.”

Many of the children did not have the same fears, however, as many young reptile-lovers took turns holding the little serpent.

“It’s been very popular,” Ozment said. “It’s probably the main attraction.”

Thirteen-year-old Vidalia resident Justin Leger said he enjoyed several of the activities at the event, but the snake was his favorite.

“We went canoeing, and it was fun,” he said. “We saw fish jump around and got wet. But holding the snake was (my favorite).”

Leger said it was his first time to visit the refuge, but he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“It’s the best thing I’ve done in a while,” he said.

Seven-year-old Natalie Hill was at the event with her mother Theresa, and Natalie also adored the snake, Theresa said.

“She’s been with the snake all morning,” Theresa said.

“I hold him a lot and like to look at them,” Natalie said.

Natalie said she has no fear of snakes.

“Unfortunately not,” her mother added.

Theresa’s husband and Natalie’s father, Nathan Hill, works at the refuge, and Theresa said it was great to see so many people enjoying their time on the refuge.

“This (event) has been really great for the kids,” she said. “They are enjoying everything (the refuge) offers. It really is a family event.”

Theresa said the importance of the wildlife refuge is often overlooked.

“The refuge is extremely important,” she said. “We have to preserve natural spaces. We can incorporate natural spaces with the city.

“Going outdoors is so good for kids. They don’t get outside as much as they need to, and this offers activities for families and kids to come out and enjoy the refuge.”

Julia Saloni, who is from Poland and recently moved to the area to work as a chemistry professor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus, said her and her son J.J. Szymczak came out to enjoy the event with some students from Co-Lin.

Saloni said she enjoyed the morning canoe trip.

“It was great, the lake here is beautiful,” she said.

Her son, an 8-year-old student at Cathedral, said he preferred the bear obstacle course that taught children a lot about the lives bears live.

“I learned that bears hibernate, and that they eat stuff I didn’t know they eat,” Szymczak said.

Lakeitra Davis-Carter, a fourth-grade teacher at Wilkinson County Elementary, said she came to the event to learn what the refuge has to offer. She said she plans on bringing her class to the refuge in the future.

“I want to teach nature to the class,” she said. “I want to bring the kids out. I have been bird watching here before.”

Davis-Carter said her favorite activities were the nature walk and the bear obstacle course, which taught her 5-year-old daughter Leanetra Carter a lot about bears.

Davis-Carter came to the event with Leanetra, her 1-year-old daughter Leamyria Carter and her mother Annie Mae Davis.

Strader said another popular activity at the event was the GPS session, which taught participants basic mapping skills using a GPS system.

“We went inside and used Google Earth and located things on the maps,” Strader said. “The room was jammed full.”

Strader said he estimated approximately 200 people attended the event, and he said he hopes to continue the celebration next fall.

“(National Wildlife Refuge Week) is the theme of the event really,” he said. “We would like to have an annual fall event, and hope it continues to grow. We hope to take advantage of the good weather and use the refuge facilities we have here for all ages and interests.”

The event also featured a photography walk, waterfowl management station, pond discovery station and drug education station.