Boys & Girls Club Explores Weekiwachee Preserve

Boys and girls at the Weekiwachee PreserveTop left: Junior high students spent the day fishing. Putting the worm on the hook was a test for some! Top right: Joseph Verdi gets an up-close view of the watershed model. Lower left: Alexis Verdi studies the hiking guide. Lower right: Bob Brady, senior field technician, shows children how he takes water quality samples.

For the second year in a row, members of the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County piled into buses that would take them to the Weekiwachee Preserve where they would learn about water resources and the environment through hands-on exercises and explorations.

Last year’s field trip to the preserve was very popular with the children, who ranged in age from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“For weeks after the trip, parents came and said their kids were still talking about the preserve, so we partnered with the District to offer it again this year,” said Josh Kelly, executive director from the Boys & Girls Club. “We’ve implemented some ecology programs at the Boys & Girls Club, and this field trip also offers the kids a hands-on component to those programs.”

District staff from several departments worked together to plan the fun and informative field trip. Each group rotated through age-appropriate activities, which included a trail hike, water quality testing, a land management practices demonstration, a fossil display and watershed education exercises. The oldest age group spent their time fishing.

One of the most popular activities of the day was the fossil display provided by Dave DeWitt, a District professional geologist. The kids marveled over everything from very tiny shell fossils, called forams, to a whale backbone found in Polk County. DeWitt says all of the fossils were found in Florida and most of them came from limestone formations; however, the shark teeth were found in shell deposits around Tampa Bay.

“The fossil remains are evidence of the marine environment that used to exist beneath our feet,” said DeWitt. “Millions of years ago, when Florida was still underwater, these big sharks, whales and the manatees’ cousin, the dugong, were swimming around, living and dying in the same ocean that the Florida land mass emerged from.”

Bob Brady, senior field technician, and Rik Mathias, assistant field technician, showed the students how they collect water and test its quality.

“I was surprised there were so many bugs in the water,” said Jaikob Scad, a 9-year-old who was interviewed by Bay News 9 during the event.

Brady and Mathias explained that finding bugs in the water shows that a water body is healthy. They also talked about what elements lead to poor water quality.

According to tests given to the children before and after the field trip, the outing was more than just entertaining.

“The kindergarten through second-grade groups had a 20 percent gain in knowledge about water resources and the third-grade through sixth-grade groups had a 28 percent gain,” said Mary Margaret Hull, lead communications coordinator.

Kim DeVary, District land use specialist, was involved in organizing the field trip both years.

“This year’s field trip was a wonderful opportunity for several departments at the District to work together to educate the leaders of tomorrow. The children had great enthusiasm, and the ones I spoke with that attended this field trip last year were quick to answer questions about things they remembered,” said DeVary. “Overall, I believe this is one of the most positive events I am privileged to be a part of at the District, and I hope we continue this year after year.”