Looking toward spring: Get youth outdoors with these seasonal activities

In my last article – Kids Caring about Conservation — I eluded to the fact that a large percentage of today’s youth do not get a chance to experience the great outdoors. This lack of experience often leads to a complete disconnection with the wild world around them.

As we encourage the conservation of our natural resources, we often overlook the fact that today’s youth have limited experience with our natural world. And it is not very often you want to conserve something you know little about.

As we watch the days of January fade away, we look to the months ahead. Although still in winter’s grasp, we notice that days are getting longer and the temperatures are slowly but steadily climbing. Spring is right around the corner, and with it, a chance to get out and experience nature and the great outdoors.

Spring is a great time to get youth involved in the outdoors. The weather is getting comfortable and cabin fever has taken its toll. In this article, I will give some fun ways to explore the outdoors with your children this spring.

Shed hunting

One of my proudest moments as a youth was finding my first shed antler. It was amazing to me that I was now carrying around an antler that a mature whitetail buck had carried with him for the previous six months.

Whitetail bucks will usually begin to lose their antlers in January. By March, most of the snow has melted away and the woods are still lacking any new vegetation growth. This allows for the best visibility when trying to find these hidden treasures.

The best strategy is quite simple, cover the most ground as possible. The more you walk, the better your chances of locating a shed antler. A few hints to remember: Look for southern exposures (south facing hills or slopes where bedding deer utilize the sun’s radiant heat). Walk slowly (sheds can easily be mistaken for a stick or branch). Instead of looking for a whole shed, look for a piece of antler (often times, sheds will be covered by leaves, sticks, or grass).

Mushroom hunting

One of my earliest outdoor memories involved mushroom hunting with my dad and grandpa. It became an annual tradition in the spring to head to the woods in search of morel mushrooms. Morels closely resemble a fleshy sponge mounted on a hollow, cream colored stalk.

These mushrooms are considered a delicacy when cooked and are prized by those who hunt them. These tasty fungi only grow for a short period of time. They begin their growth in the month of April when we begin to get our first warm nights of the year. Morels can be found in numerous places, but areas with old, dead apple and elm trees seem to produce the best yields.

Ohio has many species of mushrooms. Picking the right variety can lead to a tasty feast. Picking the wrong type can cause illness or even death in severe cases. It is important that when hunting mushrooms that you determine which are edible and which are not. It is important to reference a field guide or someone with knowledge of mushrooms before consuming them.

Turkey hunting

Hunting is a great way to get youth involved in the outdoors. This is especially true when pursuing Ohio’s largest game bird, the wild turkey. Turkey season opens in mid April when the weather is usually quite pleasant. It is a type of hunting that allows the hunter to stay mobile. This mobility often benefits youth who lack the patience to remain in one place for long periods of time.

Turkey hunting is a great way to observe the woods in a very natural setting. The sounds, sights and smells of woods in spring at dawn can be absolutely breathtaking. It is hard not to get an overwhelming sense of appreciation of our natural world as it wakes up around you.

The Division of Wildlife has dedicated the first weekend of turkey season as youth only. This makes for a great opportunity for youth (accompanied by a licensed adult) to hit the woods before the actual season begins. This year, youth turkey season is April 16-17.

Rewarding

All of these activities have the ability to give much more than the goal at hand. Sure, finding a shed or locating a patch of morels is exciting, but it is only a small part of the overall experience received from spending a day outdoors.

Every trip has the potential to create a new and exciting memory that will remain with that individual throughout their life. These are the meaningful memories that can ultimately encourage people to conserve our natural resources.

About the Author

Matt Brown has been the Wildlife & Forestry Specialist for the Columbiana Soil & Water Conservation District since 2007. He has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Conservation from Kent State University. Matt can be reached at 330-332-8732 or Matt.W.Brown@oh.nacdnet.net. More Stories by Matt Brown

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