Rifle parks talks are only natural | PostIndependent.com

Rifle parks talks are only natural

Dennis WebbPost Independent Staff
Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox State Parks ranger Beth Dodd directs a nature-awareness activity with children visiting Rifle Falls Sunday.

RIFLE – Most days, Carter Pressler is a 4-year-old kid from the New Castle area.On Sunday, he was transformed into a moth, trying to escape from a bat in Nature Games II, one of the interpretive programs offered at the Mountain Mist Amphitheater at Rifle Falls.Another young boy wearing a blindfold stood in the center of a circle of kids, while Carter ran around the edge of the circle. The other boy was the bat, and every time he called out “bat,” Carter was supposed to respond with “moth,” showing how the bat uses sonar in the dark to chase its prey.Mostly, though, Carter ran in the direction of big brother Brooks, 8, who kept directing him away from his predator.Then the blindfold came off and a new bat and moth were found, as others came by to find out what all the fun was about.

“We’re playing a game called Bat and Moth,” state park ranger Beth Dodd told the newcomers. “It’s kind of like Marco Polo. You ever hear of that?”Soon, a decidedly older DeeDee Fowler, of Grand Junction, was a moth, being chased by a decidedly smaller bat.”Even big kids can play,” said Fowler, whose daughter was part of a group of Colorado School of Mines students visiting the falls.Fowler, who has played Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl for the U.S. Forest Service, praised the State Parks educational efforts at Rifle Falls.”Anything for kids,” Fowler said.In fact, the State Parks interpretive series is for kids of all ages. Thanks to a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, talks and other educational activities are offered six times a week, some in the afternoon and some in the evening, at the falls and Rifle Gap State Park’s Cottonwood Campground. Most programs last from 30 minutes to an hour.The series runs from mid-April through late September. Dodd said more than 400 people attended the May events. June attendance was lower, as nature intruded on the nature talks in the form of rain.

On Friday, some 50 people heard a talk on bats. On Saturday, with the Rifle Falls campground full of holiday revelers, 160 people turned out to hear a guest speaker who brought along birds of prey such as a bald eagle and screech owl.Dodd, who lives the rest of the year in Divide, gives most of the presentations. She said her goal is to intrigue and inform people “and also have a good time.” Many of the topics relate to the park, focusing on park residents such as bats and lions, geological features such as caves, local natural phenomena such as wildfire and thunderstorms, and threats such as invasive species.Many of the programs are hands-on, involving staring at the stars, looking at wildflowers, observing a beaver dam, playing games such as animal charades, or painting the waterfall.Many of the programs are repeated over the summer for those who missed the first ones, while new programs also are offered. Dodd said special programs also are offered to youth and senior groups, Scout troops and others who request them.The backdrop for many of the events is impressive, as the falls roar nearby. Dodd often uses a portable public address system to help spare her vocal cords.A new stage is being erected at the amphitheater so those sitting on benches for presentations can view the falls behind the speaker. The other side of the amphitheater is lined with a red sandstone wall that once was part of a hydroelectric plant that provided power to Rifle in the early part of the 20th century.

Before light rain cut the program short Sunday afternoon, Dodd played another game involving a blindfold with the kids. She tapped pencils together around the heads of blindfolded volunteers and had them try to point in the direction of the noise. It wasn’t always easy, and showed how difficult it can be for humans to identify the location of things directly in front or behind them based on hearing alone. She then explained how owls’ ears are positioned asymmetrically on their heads so they hear at different angles, helping them better determine the source of a noise and hunt prey.As his two sons took part in the games, Rod Pressler looked on, while their mom Erin was busy taking pictures around the falls. Pressler said he’s been coming to Rifle Falls for decades, and is impressed by improvements to the park such as those at the amphitheater. And he appreciated the interpretive programs being offered to children such as his.”It gets their little minds going, you know,” he said.Asked what he learned Sunday, Brooks Pressler pointed to different locations on his head and said, “An owl has an ear right here and an ear right there.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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