Posted on

Floyd County Conservation comes up with creative ways to learn and still have fun while indoors

  • Birdhouse building kits are being sold at the Fossil and Prairie Park just outside Rockford. Photo submitted

  • Heid Reams, Floyd County Conservation naturalist, holds a monarch butterfly tagging event at the Fossil and Prairie Park last fall. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Hiking kits are available at the Fossil and Prairie Park. Photo submitted

  • Bird feeder building kits were available at the Fossil and Prairie Park. Photo submitted

By Kelly Terpstra,

While many classrooms across America have been devoid of students for weeks now, Heidi Reams keeps teaching.

And that means her followers keep listening and learning.

Reams, who has been the naturalist at Floyd County Conservation for the past 16 years, has come up with some new ways for young and old to stay busy with fun activities.

With recommendations for people to stay at home and practice social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, routines have been broken, entertainment options may be limited and time may seem like it’s standing still.

“My schedule’s kind of opened up a little bit,” Reams laughed.

So to help keep cabin fever at bay, Reams decided to go live – on Facebook.

“As the weather gets nicer the plan is to go outside and go for a hike together, so to speak,” said Reams, discussing what would essentially be a virtual tag-along tour as she navigates the trail systems of the Fossil and Prairie Park or one of the other recreation spots in Floyd County.

Normally this time of the year, Reams is educating hundreds of area students at their schools or away from the classroom with programs and interactive events. Those students might be indoors or at home now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still experience some outdoor fun.

“Since all the kids are home and I know how children get easily bored, I am going Monday through Thursday live on Facebook,” said Reams. “All of the kids are used to seeing me in school, so now at least the parents can put a face to the comments that their children may make after I have visited.”

Reams has already conducted four live sessions on the Floyd County Conservation Facebook page. She begins the 15-20 minute tutorials or programs at 2 p.m each day. Topics have included talking about turtles, birds, mammals and maintaining upkeep on bird boxes.

“Each day I’m just doing a little different environmental education program, which is basically what I would do for them in their classes,” said Reams.

The Facebook Live sessions are also a chance for people to interact with Reams.

“It’s really worked out. It’s been a lot of fun because when they log in they can ask me questions. They can type in their questions and so I can answer them during the program just as if we were sitting face-to-face,” she said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Floyd County Conservation facilities, including campgrounds, have been closed until May 1. Reams said it’s too early to tell whether or not those closures will be extended. Normally the Fossil and Prairie Center near Rockford opens on the first Saturday of May every spring.

“We’ve had the discussion. Within probably the next two weeks we will know if that date will change,” said Reams.

The outdoor park and recreation areas, along with their many trail systems, remain open. Reams said she has seen more people than normal, especially families, going on hikes or enjoying nature by going on long walks.

“It’s great to see them taking advantage of the parks and getting out to hike the trails. I’ve even seen more people walking around town just to be able to get out, which is great. I love to see that,” she said.

Reams and Floyd County Conservation are also offering hike packs for anyone interested in picking them up outside the door of the Fossil and Prairie Center from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The packs include a map of the trails at the Fossil and Prairie Park, scavenger hunt sheets for young and older students as well as an arm-band pack, binoculars, compass and chapstick.

“We set those out on one of those really nice days last week because we noticed we had a lot of people coming to the park. It just gave them something to do rather than going out and walking,” Reams added.

Birdhouse building kits are available for $5 and can be picked up near the center, also. Reams said FCC ran out of bird feeder building kits, but hopefully the staff will be making more soon. The bird feeders are also $5 and were available at the same location as the birdhouses.

There were three options available for the bird feeders and they come with instructions on how to build a hanging shelf feeder and Oriole feeder (one can place an orange slice on top of it); a thistle tube feeder and sunflower tube feeder; or a wooden flat tray feeder.

The kits come with the majority of the materials needed, but “you’re still going to need some screws,” Reams said.

Reams said today (Wednesday) she plans on making bird feeders with her online followers. She has reminded them all week to save toilet paper tubes and collect pine cones for the supplies that will help them participate in the group tutorial.

“Talking with other friends and staff, we thought, well if we’re stuck inside, what better time to work on some projects and get some stuff out there,” said Reams. “We kind of take it day-by-day. We’re just trying to find ways that people can do stuff or that we can give them the opportunities to do stuff without the direct interaction.”

Every year Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area allows the public to choose the People’s Choice Partner Site of the Year. The Fossil and Prairie Park Reserve was one of five nominated this year. Online voting was conducted March 16-20 and a winner should be announced on April 7 at 3 p.m. via Facebook Live.

The other nominees were Brucemore Estates (Cedar Rapids), Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah), the Iowa State Fair and the Indian Creek Nature Center (Cedar Rapids).

“There is a really nice trophy that the partner site of the year gets,” said Reams.