Why not have fun outdoors and learn a thing or two?
I’m a poop nerd.
No, really. As soon as I see wild-animal poop, I rush to poke it with a stick, dissecting it to see what’s inside, what made it, how long it’s been there. Fortunately for me, several organizations exist solely to facilitate that sort of experiential learning. Although many of their programs are geared toward kids, quite a few welcome adults, too.
After all, getting outside is more than just going as far as you can as fast as you can; it’s about engaging with your surroundings, too. In honor of that, here are some adult-friendly opportunities to get out there and learn what’s beneath the melting snow.
Eagle River Nature Center
“Our naturalists are conducting field trips with school classes in April and May, so on the weekends we have quite a nice lineup of guests,” writes Asta Spurgis, executive director of the Eagle River Nature Center. April highlights include a chance to learn about and participate in a study on the affects of the ornamental, invasive “May Day” chokecherry on moose browsing behavior (April 14).
For the urban (or not-so-urban) homesteaders among you, Elizabeth Manning and Tony Carnahan of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will discuss how not to attract bears while raising livestock (April 21). This presentation includes a hands-on demonstration of electric fencing. (Pun not intended – I hope.)
For those with kids, Chugach State Park ranger Tom Crockett will help you “lost-proof” them with an indoor/outdoor presentation and exercises that cover how not to get lost in the first place, plus how to get found if it does happen.
May programs weren’t available at press time, but Spurgis says you can expect one of the very popular hikes led by Nature Center volunteers Bob and Ann Fisher. She also points out the center’s new Yukla Yurt – two miles down the Crow Pass trail – as an opportunity to get away from it all without going all that far. The Yukla Yurt sleeps six, has a large outdoor deck, and rents for $65/night for nonmembers, $55 for Nature Center members.
Center hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays-Sundays in April and May. However, the trails are always open, so visit at your leisure to listen for great horned, boreal, and saw-whet owls, and keep your eyes peeled for the lynx, coyotes and wolverine staff have recently reported seeing or hearing. See ernc.org for directions, program listings and additional information.
Campbell Creek Science Center
The Campbell Creek Science Center tends to cater to the school crowd, but it also hosts a popular series of adult-friendly fireside chats throughout the winter; the last chat, on April 17, will cover cold war radar sites in mid-20th-century Alaska.
Another seasonal, all-ages highlight is the series of early-morning bird walks co-hosted by the Anchorage Audubon Society. This year’s walks are held 6:30-8:30 a.m. every Thursday in May (May 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30). Dress for chilly mornings on the trails, watching and listening as songbirds return to their summer mating and breeding ground. Hot cocoa and coffee are offered in the Science Center afterwards; call 267-1241 with questions.
The Alaska Native Plant Society hosts its monthly meeting at the Science Center, 7 p.m. April 1 (and May 6) at the Campbell Creek Science Center. The April speaker is Peggy Hunt with the Alaska Plant Material Center; May’s speaker is the Society’s own Beth Baker. For more Plant Society summer activities, go to the group’s website at aknps.org.
While still a ways off, this is worth mentioning: On June 1, the Science Center celebrates National Trails Day, an opportunity for the entire family to get out and get their hands dirty, helping maintain the Science Center and the trails around it. There’s something for every ability level – in past years volunteers have painted, planted and performed trail maintenance; made new friendships; and, rumor has it, eaten quite a lot of pizza afterward.
In addition to the Science Center-hosted walks, the Anchorage Audubon Society co-hosts the annual Hawkwatch Weekend with the Mat-Su Birders April 13-14. Details were still being finalized as of press time, but expect a weekend of watching migrating raptors stream through the mountains. You don’t have to be an expert birder to attend – in fact, this is a great opportunity for novices to wet their feet. See anchorageaudubon.org for details.