Fall is an ideal time for hiking and birding. According to Don Arnosti, policy director of Audubon Minnesota, some amazing species migrate through the Mississippi River Valley in the fall. Tundra swans stop in the Mississippi River backwaters to munch on arrowroot and wild celery, a fuel stop on their route from the Yukon to the Chesapeake Bay.
Volunteers from Audubon Minnesota will talk about fall migration and try to interest young people in birding at the area's first Hike & Seek nature hike on Saturday at Lebanon Hills Regional Park.
"I call it the gateway drug to the environment," Arnosti said of birding. "They're very observable wildlife."
"You don't have to go to exotic destinations to see some pretty cool birds," said Jason Dinsmore, the regional National Wildlife Federation representative in charge of coordinating the Hike & Seek event at Lebanon Hills.
During the event, kids in kindergarten to sixth grade will hike a little more than a mile, stopping along the way at interactive "Stop & Study" nature stations, which feature nature crafts, wildlife displays and other nature-themed education and activities.
Every participant will use a guidebook with a map to the trail and a scavenger hunt, which they will complete by collecting stamps at the stops along the way at each station. At the end, kids will receive an Honorary Junior Naturalist badge from Ranger Rick.
The event encourages people to register as teams and to find sponsors to raise money for the federation, though doing so is optional.
The National Wildlife Federation started Hike & Seek four years ago, and it has expanded now to 11 U.S. cities. For the first Twin Cities event, Dinsmore said the group has built partnerships with regional nonprofits such as the Audubon Society and the Minnesota Forestry Association.
At their station, Arnosti said, Audubon volunteers, in addition to talking about birds, will instruct kids in the some of the basics of birding, such as using binoculars. "That's actually surprisingly hard," he said.
At the Minnesota Forestry Association station, kids will learn about types of trees, the parts of trees and how they function, and the various products made from trees, education committee member Neal W. Chapman said. Kids will also collect leaves to press and save, and the group will hand out free white spruce seedlings to the first 300 kids as well as free tree posters ("Minnesota Forest Treasures") to the first 150 families.
"Children are the key to our and our trees' future," Chapman said. "The better they understand, and the more times they are exposed to the wild things, the better we all will be."
Dinsmore said the Reptile Amphibian Discovery Zoo in Owatonna will also be featured at one of the stations, with live reptiles and amphibians.
The Hike & Seek event is part of the National Wildlife Federation's national Be Out There campaign. "It's part of our movement to reconnect families with the outdoors," Dinsmore said. "We see a major problem with 'nature deficit disorder,' as it's been called."
"The indoor activities and distractions are disconnecting their children from the earth," Arnosti agreed.
According to Karoline Hurd, director of special events for Be Out There, studies show that getting kids outside encourages them to be physically active, to be more creative in their play, to be less aggressive and to have better concentration. Sign up at www.hikeandseek.org.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.