WEEKI WACHEE — The quiet wildlife preserve here burst into sound Tuesday as 70 youngsters from the Boys & Girls Club swarmed the terrain, making enthusiastic observations during a land resources field trip.
Along a trail, the youths spied turtle shells, deer tracks, skulls of deer and raccoon, and black and yellow butterflies. They yearned to see a live deer, but their guide said the chatter would have scared them away.
As for bears, they live deep in the Weekiwachee Preserve's swamp, far from the curious eyes of children, said Kim DeVary of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Gopher tortoises were likely to be deep underground in their burrows, away from the summer heat. Patrick, 7, said he had petted a tortoise at the Boys & Girls Clubs site. Director Joshua Kelly mentioned the club's summer program focused on ecology.
DeVary, a land use specialist, pointed out hunks of limestone rock holding fossils. The discovery prompted kids to kick at every rock and precipitated a collective dash to a tent filled with fossilized remains of sea creatures, from whales to coral.
The nearly 3-foot-long section of a whale's backbone, with a circumference larger than two hands of an adult, had been discovered in a rock mine, said Gary Williams, environmental scientist.
Among various corals, alive in the ocean at one time but petrified in the exhibit, Williams pointed out brain coral. The kids agreed it looked like the landscape of a brain they had seen in pictures. They fingered the convolutions.
The shark teeth elicited oohs and aahs and a flurry of "I want to hold it."
"Sharp, huh?" Williams asked. Nods all around.
The identity of another sharp object stumped the onlookers. Williams hinted, "Indians used to live here years and years ago." It was an arrowhead cut and shaped from native stone.
Fast forward to the present, as Kim Makoid, youth education specialist, set up a tabletop watershed model. Several children suggested a watershed was a shed that held water.
She explained it as a geographical area whose rainfall and runoff flow to a particular stream or river or lake. Whether you live in a city or suburb or on a farm, everyone lives in a watershed, she said. Hernando's watershed drains into the Gulf of Mexico.
The model landscape included a farm, a small community of homes, a factory, a golf course, an earth-moving site, all in the neighborhood of a stream running to a lake.
At Makoid's direction, the youths sprinkled colored fertilizer on the farmland, mock manure behind the cows, pretend dog manure around the homes, manufacturing waste at the factory, and upturned soil and rocks at the construction site.
"Let's make it rain," she announced. "Let's have a storm." Makoid spattered water across the landscape. It flowed to the stream, bound for the lake.
"Look at the water," offered an amazed Jacob, 9, referring to the runoff.
"The colors are mixing," pointed out 7-year-old Alana.
As the lake took on the pollutants, Makoid asked: "Would you want to swim here? Would you want to fish here? If you played on the golf course would you want to have a boat here?"
Makoid went further, explaining the pollutants would eventually reach the groundwater, the aquifer, which provides drinking water.
Lesson sent home.
It was the second annual field day for the water district and Boys & Girls Club. For some kids, it was their first foray into the wild.
The 9,000-acre preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset to bikers, hikers, in-line skaters, fishermen, canoers and kayakers. Access is via Shoal Line Boulevard or Osowaw Boulevard. On the second Saturday of each month, visitors may drive in via the Osowaw Boulevard entrance.
Beth Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.