WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.” ― Luther Burbank
Combine those memorable nature-embracing words of Burbank, with the contagious enthusiasm of Martha Campbell of Boy Scout Troop 326 at the annual Cub Scout Adventure Day, and one thing is certain: neither the cub scouts, nor their accompanying parents were deprived of the best part of education. Burbank would have smiled had he tagged along on our grand scouting adventure.
Today’s Wilder Side of Oakland County trail tale began with a phone call from Campbell, the Advancement Coordinator and K-3 Delegate of the troop. She explained to me that Cub Scout Adventure Day is designed to help Cub Scout packs complete their outdoor requirements and she emphasized, “Each rank has a program designed and overseen by adult leaders with our Troop 326 Boy Scouts engaging and leading the Cub Scouts.” Then came the baited-hook to lure me in, “Would you like to come along and help with the woodland scavenger hunt that’s part of the program?” I paused before responding, but when she mentioned a campfire, complete with hot dogs, I said “yes.”
And so last Saturday, I headed to 4,543-acre Kensington Metropark, one of thirteen regional parks managed by Huron Clinton Metroparks to partake in my first Cub Scout Adventure Day. I made sure to follow Campbell’s advice and bring my day pack with water, trail snacks and some very basic first aid and safety equipment to help role model their learning benchmarks. I met the rather rambunctious scouts at the Group Camp site near the banks of the Huron River, a section of Kensington I had never explored.
Our plan was to lead about forty kindergarteners and first grade age cub scouts from different cub scout packs and their parents on a one mile woodland hike where they would need to find three different plants or animals and two different trees for their outdoor requirements. The kindergarteners are known as Lion Scouts, while the first graders are the Tiger Scouts, or Tigers in the Wild! Their checklist included a cedar tree, hawk, squirrel, pine cone, horse, acorn, black walnut tree, bird, sassafras tree, mushroom, chipmunk and oak tree. We decided that positive evidence of an animal would count as a sighting, a fact that came into play when it came to not seeing a horse. We knew, but the cub scouts did not know, that the horse staging area was not far away and we would be hiking on a trail used by equestrians.
With the hot dog feast underway, the scouts were briefed on the plans and reminded of their outdoor related requirements. Each scout was given a check list and then we headed for the woods as a team, accompanied by a small contingent of siblings and parents, with me struggling to stay in the lead.
The recent rains made mushrooms soar rapidly to the top of the “I see one” list! – that is, once I explained that mushrooms are a type of fungi and they come in many different shapes and colors.
Fungi fever soared after small puffballs were found on a decaying log and gently squeezed to create a “puff” of nearly microscopic spores: an instant lesson on where mushrooms come from. Sassafras leaves took a quick second place for easy-to-find woodland items; for the forest floor was carpeted with leaves of all shapes, sizes and colors. Parents were pleased to discover that sassafras trees have a rich history, including the source of sassafras tea confirming the fact that tea does not come “from the store.”
Oak trees thrive in OAKland County and that meant acorns were abundant and easy to find, a fact that brought smiles to eager faces as they raced along on their checklist. A verbal nudge from me reminded them acorns are food for deer, turkey, chipmunks and squirrels and to leave the acorns on the forest floor dinner table. As our excited army of lions and tigers meandered along searching for the items on the list, we occasionally detoured from the list to chat on other finds, including the rough bark of black cherry trees that felt like “burnt potato chips.” An old nesting cavity of woodpeckers, a deer track in mud and evidence of carpenter ants at the base of a dead tree also drew the attention of eager eyes. Almost everyone stopped to sniff the aromatic needles of red cedar trees during our snack break, the perfect setting for a refresher on the Leave No Trace Principles and the Boy Scouts of America Outdoor Code. A few of the scouts sat on fresh moss during the break, quickly discovering that moss holds moisture, another lesson from the wilds.
Sightings of boisterous blue jays drew the attention of some of our team, but the most exuberant burst of excitement came from about a dozen of the Tiger Scouts when we came upon horse manure. “Horse poo!” was the excited cry and I quickly reaffirmed that finding manure counted as a horse sighting and more little hands happily checked one more item off their scavenger hunt list.
The most gleeful moments of proud excitement came near the end of the hike when Martha Campbell awarded a special patch to each of the participants for Cub Scout Adventure Day. The hike wrapped up with a spontaneous trailside celebration of tossing the golden leaves of sugar maples into the air, an excellent closing for discovering secrets of nature’s way and scouting requirements on the wilder side of Oakland County. For information on “Tigers in the Wild,” visit their website. White Lake Township-based Boy Scout Troop 326 can be followed on their Facebook page or on Instagram.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.