Park officials hope weather will not override message of kids’ day

By Katie Demeria

Saturday’s National Kids to Park Day, sponsored by the National Park Trust, may be a rainy affair, but Shenandoah River State Park will still be offering programs this weekend to encourage parents to take their kids outside.

Education Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Saik said the Shenandoah River State Park expects to see the river rise by 8 to 9 feet due to rain.

An “unnatural hike” was planned for Saturday morning, but Saik said she may have to cancel.

Other programs will still be offered this weekend, though, despite the rain, and Saik said she hopes local residents will still take advantage of the point of Kids to Parks Day and bring their children to other events.

According to a Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation news release, the day “is designed to get kids outdoors and into parks and to promote environmental stewardship and a healthy lifestyle.”

Saik said Shenandoah River State Park tries to get kids out to the parks throughout the year.

“My personal opinion is that children spend way too much time indoors,” Saik said. “It’s a really good idea to get them out there and away from electronics.”

The park offers kid-friendly programs throughout the year, and this weekend they will still have one of the most popular classes: Trails, Turtles and Snakes. The class teaches kids about reptiles and amphibians and allows them to touch the animals that are kept in the visitor’s center.

Another class designed specifically for Kids to Parks Day will still take place on Saturday. Participants will make their own rubber stamps and go on a hike to find their first letterboxes. It cost $3 for supplies.

Saik said she is also planning to start a new class within the next few weeks about bats.

“It’s a very visual program with a lot of props, so it’s geared toward kids,” she said. “They’ll learn about bats and go out and listen to them. And we’ll be talking about the white-nose fungus that has been killing off millions of them.”

Saik said that a few years ago hundreds of bats roosted under the park’s kiosks in the spring and summer. Last year, she said, there were only one or two, and this year she has only seen one. White-nose fungus has been reducing their numbers dramatically.

The goal is to spread awareness about the issues facing bats by educating children. Saik said she is always hopeful that programs will get kids more interested in wildlife — sometimes students will come out on field trips and say it is the first time they have ever been in the woods.

“They always end up having fun, and if we can do anything to peak their interest in nature, well, that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

To find out more about the youth programs the park offers, go to www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/shenandoah-river.shtml.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com