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Kids spend day making nature projects

Itasca State Park volunteer Richard Larson, at left, helps Jack (middle) and Isaac McQuown make a thistle seed bird feeder out of a recycled water bottle. Dad Troy McQuown is looking on in the background. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
It took a team effort to apply a tiny daisy on Violet Weiher's cheek. The Lake George toddler was held by mom Tammy while Abby Davies, 12, applied her artistic touches. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

The vernal equinox was a sunny day, but one that struggled to get above the freezing mark.

That brisk weather didn't stop kids of all ages from participating in a Spring Activity Day at Itasca State Park.

The park featured Do It Yourself nature projects at affordable prices.

Kids smeared peanut butter on pinecones - and themselves - then rolled them in birdseed to make tiny but charming feeders for chickadees and nuthatches. Volunteer Don Norwood was in charge of this project, and the cleanup. His table was a bit sticky by noon.

Or kids could use recycled plastic water bottles to make Niger seed feeders for chickadees. A few touches with a wood-burning tool made the necessary holes for feeding, a perch and a string to hang the feeder up.

That was volunteer Richard Larson's project. He needed parental assistance to keep eager little hands from stuffing the plastic bottles with birdseed for the pinecone project, instead of the finer Niger seed.

Larson's wife Pat and Norwood's wife Linda were on hand to lend assistance with questions.

There were tree-planting tips and a display of tree branches so visitors could tell a tree by its buds.

Naturalist Connie Cox explained that many people buy seedlings that aren't easily identifiable, so a short seminar on bud identification and pruning assists residents obtain optimal tree growth and selection.

Cox also put up a table display on harvesting maple syrup, using materials such as plastic milk jugs or plastic bags with a stick hanger. Last year the park did a full-fledged demonstration, tapping several sugar maples. Cox said to keep the trees in optimum condition, she generally only taps them every other year.

"People think you need expensive equipment for maple syruping," she said. "You can hang these milk jugs to a tree and they'll work just fine."

A commercial grade lasagna pan, purchased at a restaurant supply store or a school that might be closing, works well to boil the sap down, Cox said.

Twelve-year-old Abby Davies, who lives just north of the park, had the most popular table with the pre-teen set, painting little faces with ladybugs, flowers and other signs of spring.

"We're the face painters in the summer," Pat Larson said of her and Linda's regular duties.

Visitors were instructed by naturalist Sandra Lichter in using the Journey North Web site. The interactive site, at, tracks the migration of birds and butterflies in the region. Nature lovers can report first and last sightings to the site of monarchs, hummingbirds, orioles, robins, loons and other animals. The site tracks the species' long journeys to and from Central and South America, the Gulf Coast and other warm climates.

For the four McQuown kids from Clearbrook, the wonders of nature will begin in their back yard as they watch the bird feeders they toted home. They may even entice nature to the family car with all the peanut butter stuck to little fingers that touched the interior.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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