The E.-T.E.A.M. summer camp was a six-week program run by the North Brookfield Youth Center and North Brookfield Public Schools. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the students spent at Wendemuth Meadow. The summer program received funding support from the North Brookfield Local Cultural Council, 21st CCLC & ASOST grants, and MassLIFT Americorps program.
It seems fitting that my service year ended at Wendemuth considering it also began with the Fall Friends of Wendemuth dinner. I feel fortunate to have experienced each of the changes the seasons bring to the Preserve.
Tuesdays and Thursdays came to be the most exhausting, yet most rewarding days of my summer. I looked forward to each day’s activities and the eagerness of the kids.
The 6 week camp consisted of several learning topics including forestry, agriculture, wildlife, and birding. One of the most important topics was the general history of Wendemuth and Town Forest. The first week we had the kids explore the perimeter trail of Wendemuth Meadow. They were able to view multiple settings including the barn, the stone walls, and the hay fields. We were also given the chance to introduce them to the visible effects of the prescribed burn and how quickly the meadow recovered throughout the summer.
Our first guest visitor, Janine Drake, came in to speak about the history of Wendemuth, why she got involved with the Friends of Wendemuth, and how East Quabbin Land Trust acquired the property with the town to promote local species of interest, prevent development, and keep the property available for the community to enjoy year round. Janine also got the kids to explore insect activity throughout the meadow where they saw spittle bugs, water striders, arachnids, grasshoppers, and crickets. These viewings showcased the importance of the different species and how they contribute to the surrounding ecosystem. Exploration of the town forest park with Devon Jurczyk showed the kids the connection trail to Wendemuth Meadow along with other interesting learning opportunities such as trail markings and learning how to age trees by counting the rings of the trunk. Ross Hubacz came later in the summer to lead the kids back through the Town Forest Park Connection Trail and speak about the timber sale, forest management, and the tree species present throughout the town forest.
Farming was a topic that really interested the kids. Ralph Buzzell came with his nephew, Sam, and informed the kids about farming techniques throughout history. He spoke about his time growing up on the dairy and how much it has changed from having to go out and hand milk cows multiple times daily, to having a milking machine. He spoke about haying and how practices progressed from loose hay that would be pitched from the ground up to hay lofts to balers that make round hay bales. Sam brought his work experience from Sturbridge Village and a few old farming implements, including pitchfork and scythe. Ralph’s talk ended with a hay ride through Wendemuth Meadows and around the hay fields where the bobolinks were nesting. The kids also got to enjoy hanging out with a few animals thanks to Mike, the father of two of our campers, who brought in a mini pig, two goats, one hen, and a few chicks in order to introduce the kids to livestock care and management.
Ann Hicks was one of our most dedicated and eager volunteers. The kids loved all of her activities and learned a great deal from her. She first introduced the kids to the birds of Wendemuth by playing bird songs by a variety of birds including the bobolink, song swallow, red-winged blackbird and the calls of a kestrel. We then proceeded to take a silent walk towards the bobolink nesting area while listening for bird songs along the way. The kids were very excited to identify the song of a song-swallow and see multiple red-winged blackbirds and bluebirds. One group was lucky enough to hear and see a kestrel falcon chiding us for coming to close to its nest. Ann returned to incorporate art with the musical stylings of the birds to depict how each camper viewed the birds’ calls. We listened to the bird songs and with a frequency line drawing, were able to express our depictions of the bird songs on paper.
We finished off our activities about birds with Tom Ricardi and his Birds of Prey program. He brought in non-releasable educational rehab animals to teach the kids about wildlife rehabilitation and the impending dangers of habitat loss and poaching. After his presentation the kids were given nothing but their imaginations to create giant birds’ nests using sticks collected at the school and hay from the hay fields. Each camper got to test out their nests for comfort.
My favorite part of the camp was teaching the kids about wildlife. We spent one day making plaster paw prints to teach the kids about tracking and animal gaits. The kids got to imitate different animals and tried to walk like their favorite animals. The meadow was soon filled with tigers, snapping turtles, kangaroos, birds, and elephants. We did micro-investigations to see the differences in insect activity from various areas of the meadow and we culminated the wildlife section with a presentation from the Creature Teachers. They brought in educational animals to show the kids similar species to those found in the meadows. The tarantula they brought was a fun way to get kids that were originally scared of spiders engaged and open to the idea of spiders as an important aspect of the environment. We also talked about skunks, ferrets (and their relation to weasels), sugar gliders (and their relation to flying squirrels), and bearded dragons and snakes (and their relationships to other reptiles and amphibians that may be found in the meadow).
In addition, Bob and Sue LaFlamme taught the kids about orienteering with each of their visits to the meadow, each session building on the last to ultimately provide the kids with the skills necessary to complete a geochaching challenge at the school. Sherry Peterson helped the kids develop their creative writing styles present and express the ideas and activities they came across during their time at the meadows.
The weeks of summer camp culminated into one final exhibition day where the kids presented the information they learned to community members. It was great to see how the kids were able to express the importance of Wendemuth Meadow and its natural resources to their family members, friends and community members that attended.