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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Earthplace Winter Program Takes on Spring Feel

Earthplace Winter Program 
Takes on Spring Feel
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Mild temperatures and sunny skies made a “Warming Up to Winter” program at Earthplace Nature Discovery Center seem somewhat out of place Saturday. Despite the lack of a wintry setting, children and families pressed on with scheduled snow-themed activities while adding in a few Spring-like diversions to round out the day.

“This was intended as a family event for folks to get a break from the cold, though this winter has been pretty mild,” laughed Peter Fraboni, Associate Director and Naturalist at Earthplace, on 10 Woodside Lane.

All-day crafts in the Eco-Lab were scheduled as a focal attraction, while ice creations, a winter hike through the Sanctuary and campfire with cocoa and S’Mores was also planned.

One craft activity was creating makeshift Inuit snow goggles using yarn, paper and crayons. “In polar climates, there are wide expanses of snow and when the sun shines down on the surface, it can cause snow blindness,” explained Andrea Zullo, one of 15 junior staff volunteers onsite helping out with the program. “The Inuits use the goggles to reduce the glare – football players do the same thing with greasepaint under their eyes.”

Another craft activity involved drawing winter scenes with colored chalk on construction paper and adding mini paper snowflake accents. While her daughter Samantha Henske, 4, worked on her drawing, Westporter Stacey Henske commented, “This seemed like a fun thing to do on an ultimately not-real winter day, and we like to support Earthplace – it’s such a great center for the community. And it wasn’t a good ski weekend anyhow.”

At another table, junior staffer Erin Vallerie painted a silver snowflake on Oona Lundgren-Lahav’s cheek. Vallerie said she has been volunteering for the past two years and goes to the facility every Saturday October through June. “It’s fun to do different programs, learn about the animals and help other kids.”

Outside at a picnic table, eight-year-olds Spencer Henske and Drew Schwartzman were making ice sculptures, though the sun’s warmth was making it difficult for them to keep their respective structures intact. “I don’t think the Center expected it to be so warm today,” said Spencer’s dad, Tom. A fan of Earthplace, he added, “A program and center like this is the whole reason we moved to a town like Westport. It’s real and a relief from sports and video games. The kids are making great memories today.”

When it came time for the hike along Swamp Loop, led by Program Coordinator Becky Newman, dozens of families gathered. As the group set off, Newman remarked, “This is not so much a warm up to winter day as a warm up to spring. I’ve got the winter blues ‘cause I’m missing the snow. I want to take off my sweatshirt.”

Newman said bees have been seen flying around and bringing back pollen, indicating that there were flowers in bloom. Seed pods littered the trail, too, indicating growth. And all along there were sightings of deer tracks, red-bellied woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows and tufted tit mice – busy and scurrying to and fro – that indicated Spring was not far off.

The most telling sign though was when hikers returned to the main grounds -- they raced not to the campfire that had been started, but to swings, a slide and a visiting hot dog vendor – certainly not your usual winter attractions.

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