Nature center kicks into gear

Published 10:16 am Monday, June 1, 2009

Instead of sitting in a classroom, Ms. Usgaard’s first-grade class from Southgate Elementary spent a sunny Friday afternoon chasing ants and worms and learning a thing a two about the outdoors.

The class was on a trip at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, where things are revving up for summer. On Thursday, seniors from Lyle High School went canoeing to celebrate the end of the school year. And as of yesterday, canoe rentals are available to the public at $10 per boat.

Nature center director Larry Dolphin said canoeing isn’t hugely popular—he said the center usually gets about three to four rentals a week—but said it’s a nice way to connect with nature. For your 10 bucks you get a canoe, paddles and life vests. Dolphin said a canoe fits an average of three people.

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The center’s main clientele, however, are younger kids, like those is Ms. Usgaard’s class. Dolphin said the lessons at the nature center correspond with classroom curriculum, giving kids a chance to see the real-life versions of what they study in textbooks.

The first graders Friday were led into the woods by nature center intern Alex Watson. Watson had the kids look for crawlies in the dirt, then he took them to the pond to look for frogs.

After scooping a frog out of the water with a big, mesh net, Watson showed the amphibian to the kids up close.

Austin’s Betsy Dunlap, who was at the center with her son Nicholas, 7, as a chaperone, said she thinks it’s great to get the kids outside and learning.

“It’s exciting for the kids to see all the animals,” she said.

For more information on the Hormel Nature Center, visit