It’s usually pretty quiet this time of year at Hartman Creek State Park.
The campground and park office are still open for business, but the steady stream of visitors ended Labor Day weekend.
More than 400 fifth-graders put an end to the silence Oct. 4 at the Waupaca County Conservation Field Day. Stevens Point-based Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc. organized the event, which has grown since it started six years ago.
Jennifer Glad, the council’s administrative coordinator and project director, is in charge of the field trip.
“There are seven schools today: Waupaca, Marion, Manawa, Iola-Scandinavia, Clintonville and St. Martin Lutheran and Emmanuel Lutheran from New London,” she said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of preparation. We pretty much start working on this in January, soliciting volunteers and talking with teachers. Every year it gets bigger and better. It has a really positive reputation, so getting volunteers is not as difficult as it used to be.”
The council, which represents Waupaca, Adams, Juneau, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Portage, Waushara and Wood counties, is committed to preserving central Wisconsin’s natural resources and strong rural tradition.
“This is the only county where we do a countywide field day,” Glad said. “This is the biggest one as far as the number of kids, area and volunteers. The first year, it was 150 kids and 10 stations. This year is 450 kids and 21 stations. Last year was our highest attendance ever with 520 kids.”
Students signed up to attend seven of the event’s 21 stations. Each station featured a 25-minute presentation on everything from leave no trace camping to Wisconsin’s furbearers to fishing to agriculture to forestry to soils to identifying aquatic invasive species.
Fifth-graders are the perfect age for the event, according to Glad.
“I think it’s because they’re old enough to really understand these concepts,” she said. “They’re old enough to make their own decisions and their own choices about how they treat the environment and use the resources, but they’re not too old where they think they know it all yet. They’re also at the age where they would go home and say to their parents, ‘Hey, that’s recycling, don’t throw that in the garbage’ or ‘Don’t dump that waste oil.’ We really target the fifth-grade age for those reasons.”
This year’s stations included:
• Conservation on the farm with Richard Wagner of Quantum Dairy, Weyauwega.
• Leave no trace camping with Karen Sakata of Golden Sands RC&D.
• Fishing with Chris Hamerla of Golden Sands RC&D.
• Composting with Debbie Krogwold of the Waupaca County Solid Waste & Recycling Department.
• Identifying trees with Katie Sloan of Golden Sands RC&D.
• GPS with the Waupaca County Planning & Zoning Department.
• Conservation law enforcement with conservation warden Ben Mott of Waushara County.
• Aquatic invasive species with Amy Thorstenson of Golden Sands RC&D.
• Wildlife trapping with Jim Binder, Jim Fank and John and Jean Hedtke of Whitetails Unlimited.
“We try to hit conservation topics that are a popular, that kids can understand and are somewhat commonplace,” Glad said. “Some issues in conservation are not understandable by a fifth-grader. They do change somewhat every year. We have some volunteers and presenters that have come back with us year after year. There’s always been a soil station since year one. This year, we added a fishing station. Last year, we added a gardening station. It was compost the year before.
“We’re always looking for new things to add to make it better, to make it more exciting,” she added. “We have feedback forms for teachers, so we get a lot of teacher input about what they like, what they didn’t like, what they’d like to see next year. We’re always trying to keep it fresh.”
Glad works with teachers so the students can discuss what they learned after they return to school.
“One of the things we supply to the kids is a field journal,” she said. “We tell the teachers ahead of time that we’re going to encourage them to take notes and observations and we ask (the teachers) to take it back to the classroom and talk about it. There are 21 stations out there and each kid only gets to go to seven. They pick ahead of time what their interests are. Each kid has individual schedule based on their interests. We tell them that if you take good notes, you can share them with your class when you get back and they can tell you about the stations you didn’t get to go to.”
Besides stopping at seven stations, the students also checked out the park’s trail system.
“During lunch hour, they take a 30-minute trail hike,” Glad said. “We have four different trails that we’ve outlined for them. We just added that two years ago and that’s been really popular.”
The GPS station, which introduces kids to geocaching, is the most popular of the courses, according to Glad.
“Four guys from Waupaca County are out there and they have a little treasure hunt,” she said. “Wildlife stations and camping are very popular. There’s a wide spectrum of what kids are interested in, so when we do the scheduling, it’s really not that hard to fill everything in because there’s interest across the board.”
Jake Fries, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist based at the park, and Ellen Barth, an area supervisor with the agency’s Northeast Region, introduced kids to Wisconsin’s furbearers.
“We have a presentation called Furbearers of Wisconsin,” Fries said. “We’re going to try in 25 minutes give these fifth-graders an overview of the different furbearing species in Wisconsin. Everything on the table can be found in Wisconsin. We have several of them that are common in this area that the children may encounter or have family experiences with.
“We just want to interact with them and see what they have to say about their experiences with furbearers and use that as a jumping off point to tell them a little bit about the life history of these critters,” he said. “I’m not a child specialist by any means, but I think it’s a good opportunity to use this as a chance to introduce some of the different wildlife species and aspects of conservation.”
Glad said Hartman Creek is the perfect place to hold the event. Most of the kids that attend have never been to the park before, even though it’s less than 10 miles from Waupaca.
The park’s Friends group sponsored the event, along with Whitetails Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Waupaca County Land & Water Conservation Department.
“Hartman Creek State Park is a wonderful, beautiful place,” Glad said. “The Friends of Hartman Creek have worked with us every year and have been a sponsor. “It is Waupaca County’s best-kept secret. People that travel frequently know about it, but this little gem in our backyard is something that you can definitely take more advantage of.”