Get out in nature and play

Published 6:01 am Monday, June 6, 2016

Maria Anderson of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center scoops up water from Wolf Creek flowing through Todd Park as Lisa Stundahl and Rachel Wahlert watch last year. Herald file photo

Maria Anderson of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center scoops up water from Wolf Creek flowing through Todd Park as Lisa Stundahl and Rachel Wahlert watch last year. Herald file photo

Get set for another summer of activities happening at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

They will be offering yearly events such as the Water Festival, Nature Play Thursdays and summer adventure classes.

“The Nature Center is offering another exciting summer line up of special programs and summer adventure classes and programs for all ages,” Naturalist and teacher Julie Champlin said. “Our classes start as young as six months to anybody who’s a senior.”

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Champlin said the younger classes are currently full, but encouraged people to call the nature center and see if there’s openings for specific summer adventure classes.

Champlin called the events a “great resource for major experiences.”

“I think because they’re entertaining, they’re free and they provide a valuable resource for people of all ages to get out and enjoy nature in their own community,” Champlin said.

She added the quality of presenters brings many people back again and again. The programs have grown over the years and attendance averages about 75 to 150 people attend for the Nature Play days.

“It’s a nice day, people want to come and they want to enjoy the inside as well as the outside and even on rainy days, you’d be surprised how many people come out here, looking for something to do,” she said.

 Nature Play Thursdays

Nature Play Thursdays are free for both the senior special and family programs. Senior special programs start at 9:30 a.m. and family programs start at 1 p.m.

For the senior special programs, coffee and cookies will be served. They can also sign up to take a trail access vehicle ride, and the reservation only needs to be made about three or four days in advance.

“All you need is one person who needs assistance on the trail and the whole family can go along with. And it’s free,” Champlin said.

She added the tours are fun and there are 11 miles of trail to explore. Many people like to see the tower, which is a mile out and mile back to the interpretative center.

“Some people, all they’ve done is the short trail here,” Champlin said. “…But you don’t realize how pretty it can be farther to the east and climb the three story tower and that’s kind of the fun thing to do as well.”

Champlin said it’s really nice to get out and enjoy the prairie, forest and pond during the different months of summer.

“…We always see new wildflowers. There’s different ones in May, different ones in June, July and then August it tends to be just spectacular with change in the grasses, so people enjoy that as well,” Champlin said. “It’s kind of a fun thing to do for the people that come out for the senior programs.”

The first entertainer out of the gate is David Stokes at 9:30 a.m. for the senior special and 1 p.m. for the family program on Thursday, June 16. You must RSVP by June 15.

Stokes will have his program, “Nature’s Music: The Sounds Animals Make and Why.” Through photos, vocal imitations and recordings, people will get to know noisemakers such as frogs, birds, wolves, insects and more.

“If you want to be entertained, David will entertain you, for sure,” Champlin said.

Next up is local writer/speaker/storyteller Al Batt on Thursday, June 23. Batt will present two separate programs: “More stories than the Empire State Building by Al Batt, naturally” for the senior special and “A pocket full of stories and heaps of happy tales.”

Batt is a writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist and has written many humor and nature columns for newspapers and magazines. You must RSVP by June 22 for Al Batt.

At the end of June, photographer John Duren and writer Douglas Wood will be at the nature center to present their new book, “The Essence of Place: The Story of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center” on June 30.

Duren will tell the stories behind some of his most memorable images, and Wood will tell the history of the nature center.

The book is 200 pages, hardcover and $45. There will be a special evening program at 7 p.m. in addition to the senior special and family program. Both Duren and Wood will sign books after each program. RSVP by June 29.

There’s always a new intern program every year at the nature center and this year, Ben Sherman will hold a bat program, for all those fascinated or frightened by bats.

Sherman has studied bats along the West Coast, which has given him first-hand information and stories to share.

There will be two parts to the program on Thursday, July 21: part one is 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and then part two at 8:30 p.m.

Participants attending part one can preregister by July 20 and enter to win a bat house valued at $40. Additional houses will be for sale following the programs. There will also be a prize drawing for a copy of “Stellaluna,” a book about a young fruit bat.

“Bat houses are really good because if you don’t like mosquitos, bats are wonderful assets to have in your area to help clean,” Champlin said. “We have a bat house here and there’s bats in it already.”

For part two, people can return for the sunset and see the bats in action, swooping and diving in the night sky. RSVP by July 20 for this part of the program.

Join Roger Hellesvig as Ole Oleson on Thursday, July 28 to learn about 19th century Norwegian immigration. Hellesvig will portray his great-grandfather Ole Oleson in his program, “An Immigrant’s Tale,” to tell people what it was like to immigrate to Minnesota in the mid-1800s.

“It’s a real fun Norwegian immigration tale,” Champlin added. RSVP by July 27.

The nature center will host Pat and Donna Surface with the Boundary Water Boys and Marina Wright on Saturday, Aug. 6 for the Don Deines Alzheimer’s fundraiser.

Freewill donations proceeds will go to Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Association.

“Alzheimers affects everyone, I don’t know too many people who have not had maybe a family member or a friend that has been affected too,” Champlin said. “The money stays here in our area and we think that’s really important.”

The music will take you back on a nostalgic journey to the music of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

The senior special will start at 10 a.m. with a family concert at 1 p.m. and an evening concert at 7 p.m. RSVP by Aug. 5.

The finale of Nature Play Thursdays will be Tom Pease on Aug. 25, who is becoming a regular entertainer at the nature center.

“Tom is really one of those ones you don’t want to miss because he’s a great children’s performer and he really has a way of engaging the audience to enjoy music,” Champlin said.

Through movement, sign language, humor and joy, Pease creates concerts that leave audiences laughing and singing. RSVP by Aug. 24.

People can RSVP by phone, 507-437-7519, email or in person at the Interpretative Center.

 Water Festival

The Water Festival will be held on July 11 to July 15 with many new activities this year.

The kickoff to Water Festival week will start with Cedar River Watershed District Project Manager Cody Fox on Monday, July 11, who will talk about the CRWD’s nearly $8 million, five-year Capital Improvement Project that is focused on improving water quality and reducing flooding.

RSVP by July 8.

“That will be an exciting night too…because water is very important and the whole idea between the water festival is to make people aware and they can come out and do water testing,” Champlin said. “It’s kind of amazing sometimes when you think the water looks clean but when you actually do the testing, it is not.”

Champlin said they test the water in Dobbins Creek once a week for E. Coli and plan to do a river canoe cleanup on their Clean Water Service Day, July 15.

Also during the Water Festival, Minnesota singer/songwriter Peter Mayer will have three concerts on Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, July 14 at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Afternoon nature play activities will go until 4 p.m. with pond scooping, water quality testing, crayfish hunting and a water survival game.

Mayer has recorded ten CDs and writes songs about interconnectedness, the human journey and about the beauty and mystery of the world. RSVP by July 12.

Friday, July 15 will be Clean Water Service Day and will start at 8:30 a.m. with a river cleanup. This day will go until 2 p.m., when the festival takes a tour of the sewage treatment plant.

“Sometimes we don’t know where all that garbage and sewage goes and it’s an enlightening experience to find out what happens to those particular parts,” Champlin said. “It’s pretty amazing for that.”

 Kevin Dammen Memorial Mentorship Program

The nature center also focuses on providing kids ages 12 and up an opportunity to come out and get work experience. They assist teachers with specific summer adventure classes, help with Thursday Nature Play days, canoe and kayak rentals and pond scooping.

“Sometimes you just need an extra person to be there to help you scoop the pound or catch the cray fish or do the dragonfly hunting and so we’ve seen some really wonderful positive reactions to their experiences,” Champlin said.

Kevin Dammen and his brother, Kyle, co-founded the cross country ski race in 2009, with all proceeds going back to the nature center. Kevin loved the outdoors and had an adventurous spirit.

In 2011, Kevin passed away while kayaking on Lake Superior when he and friends ran into rough water. The ski race was renamed and a mentorship program started in his honor.

The mentees receive a small stipend based on hours worked from the Friends of the Hormel Nature Center.

Past participants of the program have said the experience was very rewarding. They help with classes, monarch tagging, dragonfly hunting and other activities and duties. This year, there are 11 mentees.

“They are wonderful assets to us, but they also gain so much from the experience and it’s kind of like a stepping stone into the work world,” Champlin said. “They’re with us, studying a subject they love, but then they’re learning also how to help younger kids, because when we have large classes, they help us.”

 More land being added to nature center

The nature center recently acquired 120 acres of farmland and prairie habitat to expand their 11-mile trail system.

Just about 40 acres of that land north of the East Prairie Loop is currently planted for soybeans and 80 acres is prairie grassland, Land Manager Mike Goetz said.

 Summer Adventure Classes

Summer adventure classes can start as young as six months and go up through adults and family classes. A small fee is charged for the classes and scholarships are available, Champlin said.

A full listing of classes can be found on the nature center’s website at People can register in person at the interpretative center or mail registration information and payment to: Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, P.O. Box 673, Austin, MN 55912. Please include the following: title and date of class(es), child’s name, address, phone number and age. Please note any special needs, medical concerns or prescription medicines needing to be administered by staff while your child is at the nature center.

 Sola Fide Observatory

The observatory is open to public viewing on certain Saturdays throughout the year.

On those selected Saturdays, Keith Snyder and other volunteers can assist visitors in viewing the night sky.

“That is really a nice way to go out and view the heavenly skies,” Champlin said.

Viewing Schedule:

Viewings are at 9 p.m. on these dates: June 11 and 25; July 16 and 30; August 13 and 27; and Sept. 10 and 24.

Viewings are at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8 and 22.

 New Interpretative Center construction

Construction is underway on the new $7 million interpretive center, which will feature new and old exhibits, more classroom and office space and much more.

“So every week we always see new and different [things] and we know the walls are going to be put up by the end of June,” Champlin said.