Ottawa County Parks & Recreation offers nature programs and outdoor recreation opportunities for all ages, in every season. Due to concerns related to COVID-19, spring programs and some summer camps have been cancelled. With the Nature Center closed and group programs on-hold, the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission has shifted gears to continue to offer nature programs to citizens online.
Find Ottawa County Parks & Recreation online nature programs at miOttawa.org/naturetoyou
“Spring is a time when we welcome hundreds of students, from all over the county, into our parks. Teachers and their classes participate in curriculum-based field trips, while others help with stewardship projects,” said Jason Shamblin, Director of Ottawa County Parks & Recreation. “With the school year ending early and having to cancel our spring programs, we missed out on hours of nature education.”
It was especially disappointing having to cancel in-person nature programs this spring, since April marked the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa County Parks Nature Center. “We were so looking forward to celebrating 10 years of programming as well as providing an opportunity for park users to share their thoughts on future nature programs,” said Kristen Hintz, Coordinator of Interpretation.
It wasn’t just students who missed out on guided nature programs. Migratory birding field trips, wildflower walks, and wildlife programs created for adults were also cancelled.
“We couldn’t let the season pass without bringing nature education to our community,” said Shamblin. “We have been developing and curating programs and activities for teachers and parents to help keep kids engaged in nature at this time, as well as to serve adults who are interested in learning more about our local natural areas.”
So far, popular programs have included What’s That Bird I Hear? to help those listening identify birds they may hear in the backyard or on a walk in a local park and a Virtual Wood Frog Walk where a Parks Naturalist searches live for a specific species of frog. Some of the programs being offered were ones that were on the schedule such as All About Woodpeckers or All About Woodcocks [link needed], while others, like Frog Calls of Ottawa County, were requested by citizens.
Visitors to the Bringing Nature to You web pages can explore the different habitats in Michigan from the comfort of their own home. Each habitat and topic will include informational videos and fun activities for people of all ages including read alouds, programs, and scavenger hunts. New information, activities, and videos will continue to be added, even after the threat of COVID-19 dissipates.
Parents and teachers are finding that many on-line educational offerings that have been developed nationwide sometimes contain unwanted, distracting advertising. “It can be overwhelming, especially when you’re looking for high quality content for kids,” said Hintz. “Our naturalist guides are well-versed in curriculum standards, so even though these videos could never replace what a teacher can offer in the classroom or during a field trip, parents and teachers can be confident that the resources we are sharing are both fun and educational.”
In addition to programs and video created by staff, Ottawa County Parks & Recreation is also sharing content created by other trustworthy sources like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Outdoor Discovery Center, Blandford Nature Center, mi EcoBUZZ, Macaroni Kid and more. Volunteers with the Ottawa County Parks Foundation are putting together park history quizzes that will be available soon.
Visitors to the parks should be mindful of COVID park etiquette and guidelines. Parks have served as a respite for many during the pandemic, as a result visitation to our natural areas has significantly increased. In mobility reports released by Google/Apple, visitors to parks in Ottawa County have increased between 300%-400% (from baseline data) during weekends in April and May of this year. More information regarding this data will be released soon. Please be mindful of yourself and others when you’re at a park and on the trail.