Many people don’t know that skunks are actually acrobats. Handstands are their forte. With tails fluffed and pointed straight up in the air, they perform this stunt when they sense an unwelcome audience has come on the scene.
“The skunk’s not trying to amuse or entertain you. He’s trying to get you to leave,” said Seth Salmans, Johnson County Parks & Rec police officer. “If you don’t leave, his next step will be to spray you.”
The truth about skunks was just one part Salman’s educational program, “The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly,” held on a recent evening at the Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center.
During this entertaining and educational event, Salmans also shared information and facts about the evening’s other headliners, which included bull snakes, rose hair tarantulas and American toads.
More than 100 children and adults attended the event, held at the center’s amphitheater. It was part of an annual summer series launched more than 30 years ago. For the past five, Salmans has been teaching several of the center’s programs.
This animal-loving officer understands that, for many people, fear is connected to the species he displayed and discussed.
“Education is our goal first and foremost,” Salmans said. “We want to help people not be as afraid of these animals and also create an appreciation for them and their habitats.
“I don’t cure the fear, but if I can help people see the animals as a little less scary and in a more positive light, then I’ve done my work.”
Scheduled from May through November, Ernie Miller’s nature programs extend far beyond the amphitheater events. They also offer a wide array of summer nature and science specialty camps, such as climbing and rappelling, photography and junior naturalist camps. Weeklong Outdoor Discovery camps and outdoor story times for preschool children round out the schedule.
This popular nature destination and its programs are increasing in popularity.
On one recent weekday, more than 180 preschoolers packed in, said Bill McGowan, Ernie Miller’s outdoor education manager.
“Nationally, there’s increasing interest in people getting outdoors more,” McGowan said. “People recognize there’s a widespread nature deficit disorder, which is a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods.’
“Human beings, especially children, have been spending less time outdoors. We’ve identified that it’s important to get outdoors and experience nature — and we’re a great place to do that here.”
From the end of August through the first of November, more than 5,000 students from across the metro take field trips to Ernie Miller for their Living History program. Held in the center’s outdoor Heritage History Lab, the program is fully booked by schools a year in advance.
“We have great staff very seasoned in working with children of all ages,” McGowan said. “We use an interpretive teaching technique and communication method that makes our programs engaging and educational.”
Salmans is one of the Living History program instructors. During the course of a month, he teaches more than 1,5000 students.
“It gives them a chance to be out in the woods and it helps play to their imagination,” Salmans said.
“What I enjoy the most is the kids’ expressions and their level of awe or surprise. To be able to share the wildlife and nature and see their new awareness and interest is the best.”
For more information, visit Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center, www.jcprd.com/328/Ernie-Miller-Park-Nature-Center, or call 913-764-7759.