Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
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Fun and learning in Starkey Wilderness Park

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— Nature camp teacher Tracy Pringle and a couple of her camper helpers readied the experiment and, be warned, it was going to get messy.

Here was the plan: Pringle and the children would drop a roll of mint-candy Mentos into a two-liter bottle of soda. The carbon dioxide in the soda would quickly form bubbles all around the surface of the Mentos and in the tiny pits that cover the candy. As the soda and candy reacted to each other, a geyser-like explosion of froth would result, drawing shrieks of delight from the campers.

“I need everyone to get ready to stand back,” Stephanie Marinelli, another camp teacher, told the children who were lined up to watch.

They obeyed — almost too well.

“Don’t go in the woods, though,” Marinelli added.

The Mentos and soda experiment was just one example of the learning and fun more than 60 children were having last week as they participated in the Starkey Wilderness Nature Camp held at the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

The Pasco County Parks and Recreation Department offers several summer camps, but this is the only science camp, said Tracey Groshans, the nature camp supervisor. Because of that, all the staff members are certified teachers, although not necessarily science teachers.

The campers participate in numerous activities each week, some science-related, some just fun. They hike nature trails, conduct experiments, go on a bike hike, play games and head out on field trips to such locales as Astro Skate and Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs water park.

Guest speakers drop in, including one whose presentation takes the children wading into the Pithlachascotee River. Every Friday, the camp stages a barbecue.

The seven-week camp began last week with 64 children enrolled. That number will vary each week, depending on how many parents sign up. Groshans said children can attend all summer or their parents can just enroll them for individual weeks.

The camp is for children ages 7 to 13. In addition, the teachers are assisted by eight teenagers ages 14 to 17 who serve as program assistants and earn volunteer hours for the time they put in at the camp.

One activity the children participate in is a fossil hunt, but that doesn’t have to be happening for one of the campers to make a great find.

Last week, while she watched the soda and Mentos experiment, Amelia Hontz, 7, discovered a tiny, sharp fossilized tooth lying near where she sat.

She snatched it up.

It was accidental, but satisfying none the less.

“That’s the way the best fossil finds happen,” Marinelli told her.

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