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Itasca excels at kids' nature programs

Levi Frank shows off his owl face. He made it at Itasca State Park. His family is camping there all week. They're from Eau Claire. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Annica Anderson of St. Paul pauses to contemplate her next color as she works on an owl picture. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

One of the neatest programs around getting kids interested in nature is at Itasca State Park Wednesday mornings.

Called "Circle Time Under the Pines," the program is targeted to the pre-school set, but babies and school kids can still come and learn something in a fun atmosphere.

Naturalist Sandra Lichter does a terrific job teaching kids about nature's wonders.

They play games, read stories, sing songs, color and make projects.

It's a hoot.

Especially Wednesday's program, "O is for Owls."

Kids colored pictures of owls, learned about owl (and other bird) feathers, hugged a stuffed owl that looked like it's seen lots of hugs, and migrated between several activity stations designed to stimulate the senses.

The program is held during the winter months, where kids from Park Rapids, Laporte, Bemidji and Bagley come.

Summers it's more park visitors.

Mary Jo Frank was one such visitor. She grew up camping at Itasca and wants her kids to share the experiences she did. Nora, 5, Levi, 3, Emilia, 1, and dad camped all week at the park. They now live in Eau Claire.

The Anderson kids, Annica andJennesa, came from St. Paul with parents and grandparents.

"This is really terrific," grandpa said.

Each program has a theme, from flowers, birds, bees, weather, animals, bugs and pinecones. They learn how water freezes and where the fish go in the winter. They make mini bird feeders by smearing peanut butter on pine cones.

They learn the uses of feathers and fins. Due to the large number of birdfeeders at the visitors center, all the kids have to do is walk outside for a first-hand glimpse of something furry, fuzzy, slimy or feathery.

Kids who grow up enjoying nature are the conservationists of tomorrow.

The program runs from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. at various locations throughout the park.


No sightings this week from readers, but I did go up to Big Mantrap Lake July 1 to photograph the loon triplets.

Last year I'd photographed three at Mow Lake, but they were tricky. I couldn't get all three in one frame.

Mantrap Mom, Dad and all three babies seemed fairly tolerant of our boat trailing them at a distance earlier this month. The babies will be diving by now, so maybe won't be as visible as they were.

Big Mantrap has had an active loon-nesting program funded with donations and overseen by lots of volunteer labor. The triplets are an example of that success and dedication.

We've moved their photo to a color page in this edition of the paper.

Send your sightings and photos to sarahs@parkrapids

Sarah Smith

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

(218) 732-3364