For more information on the Field Station and its educational and research programs, go to http://baysprings.olemiss.edu.
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD - The University of Mississippi's Ecology Day Camp is a five-day immersion into hands-on study of trees and other plants, bugs and other beings.
Five sessions of 20 kids each have made their way through forest treks, fossil hunts and bug safaris, as well as classroom lessons in a variety of environment-oriented topics. The annual camp for students rising to second through seventh grade wraps up tomorrow, and already people are clamoring to register for next year's sessions.
Ecology Day Camp is centered at the university's Biological Field Station, a 700-acre preserve east of Oxford that ranges from upland woods to spring-fed ponds. Many of the day campers have attended several times, but there are always some youngsters for whom it's their first real taste of nature.
"If I could do nothing but this, I'd love it," said Mike Wallace, the camp's director. "The kids who are here really want to be here."
Some of the kids feel the same way.
"The bug hunting is fun," said Carter Diggs, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Oxford's Della Davidson Elementary. "It's about 40 percent luck that you'll see a bug in time to catch it. The rest is skill."
During each five-day session, campers learn that pollution comes not only from such obvious sources as dirty smokestacks or chemical-laden drains, but also from "non-point sources" such as agricultural runoff and automobile drips. They also learn the importance of endangered species and the dangers posed by invasive species from kudzu to nutria.
Wallace, a second-grade teacher at Oxford Elementary School, even gives a primer in timber economics, emphasizing that harvesting trees is integral to houses, furniture, paper and other necessities. Every management decision, however, is a tradeoff, he says.
"I'm not even saying clear-cutting is always bad; Mother Nature does it, too," Wallace said. "With hurricanes or intense fires, all those trees are 'clear cut.'"
A couple of field trips break up the pace of the camp. One to the wastewater treatment plant at Ole Miss shows campers how sewage is rendered benign, and they dig for fossils at a creek between Booneville and Baldwyn.
Most kids finish their "immersion into nature" literally, by swimming for the first time in a carefully tested pond. Between forward flips and backstrokes they try to net dragonflies or smear mud "makeup" on themselves and each other.
"Some of them are a little tentative at first," said counselor Wendy Cegielski, a graduate student in archaeology at Ole Miss. "Before long most of them love it."
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.