Since I was a little girl I’ve been “into” the outdoors. Whether I was soaking up the sunset over a lake, hiking to a mountain vista, sitting around a campfire, watching a parade of ducklings, or paddling quiet waters—my life has been greatly enriched by nature’s gifts.

As Nature Education Coordinator with the City of Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation Department, I’m always looking for ways to impart a bit of that magic to others. In that quest, I’m guided by the words of Anatole France, “Awaken people’s curiosity. It is enough to open minds, do not overload them. Put there just a spark.” Our nature program is designed to spread those sparks around and light some fire—to get people excited about nature and learn practical ways to become better stewards.

We’ve just wrapped up another successful summer of nature day-camps, and sparks were literally flying as we made fire-building and cooking a focus of each. The little ones who participated in Camp Hideaway, held at Alum Spring Park, enjoyed a “Campout Day” and s’mores as part of their week of discovery. Camp Wildwood, which is held at Motts Run Reservoir for 1st-6th graders, always involves learning fire building skills and, this year, campers enjoyed roasting “dough boys!”

Our Teen Adventure Campers really got into the “race to burn the string,” as part of their week of adventure. Other than the daily canoeing at Motts, I think this may be what they remember the most. Creating

positive memories in nature is all a part of creating good stewards of our environment.

In addition, there are many other facets to our nature education programs throughout the year. School field programs have children collecting seeds in the fall, picking through owl pellets in the winter, and squealing with delight as they net aquatic insects along the lakeshore in the spring. Special events that we coordinate include the annual Earth Day Festival, in which more that sixty exhibitors provided hands-on activities to showcase everything from beekeeping, raising alpacas, composting, and growing heirloom apples, to using permeable pavement, spinning and weaving, learning about birds of prey, and so much more. Talk about creating sparks!

Sharing the joy of nature often requires outreach. Throughout the past two years we’ve been fortunate to partner with Friends of the Rappahannock’s education program with support of a grant for working with at-risk youth. This has allowed us to share nature’s magic with many children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to explore the great outdoors: children who had never seen a crayfish or touched a tadpole and youths who have never paddled a canoe or lit a match before have now done so.

Our recreation department has excellent sports programs, renowned ball fields, and many special events and classes. And, just as importantly, we have a nature center, miles of hiking trails, and a staff who value the natural world and all of its treasures that are waiting to be discovered!

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