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Wellesley Island Nature Center summer programs offer environmental education

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WELLESLEY ISLAND — Birdhouses aren’t just for birds.

That is what some campers and nature enthusiasts learned as they participated in the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center’s program Saturday about where animals live in woods throughout the 600-acre site.

“(Mice) had such a wet spring that they were trying to get to higher ground,” said Russell Ruttan, the center’s maintenance worker, who co-led the trek with naturalist Loretta Buerkle.

Both leaders took a handful of people through a portion of the 9-mile trail system in search of birdhouses and holes in trees or the ground to use an endoscope to peek inside them. The group visited more than six birdhouses, but no birds were seen in them. Once mice claim them, Mr. Ruttan said, birds find other places to nest.

One birdhouse was home to a mother mouse who was nursing her babies. A half-mile on the trail from the main nature center was a tree that a snake called home, and a few chipmunks and squirrels scurried across the ground.

“It’s a pretty nature trail, isn’t it?” one group member said, as he asked questions about surrounding trees and plants.

The outdoor program is one of several the nature center will offer throughout the summer for day users or people camping at Wellesley Island State Park. Molly L. Farrell, center director, said while popular programs such as live birds of prey, explore the butterfly house, canoe and kayak trips and animal talks will resume this year, there also will be new additions or adjustments to others.

“This year we were able to repair our aquariums so we’re able to use them again,” she said. “They’ve been broken for years; they leaked and weren’t functional.”

With all of the center’s offerings, Ms. Farrell said, the overall goal is to “educate the general public about the ecology of Wellesley Island.”

“It gives you a sense of place — how the islands formed, what grows here, and depending on what underlying bedrock there is will affect if you have conifers or deciduous,” she said. “Sandstone is easier for roots to penetrate into. I really think people fear what they don’t understand. If we teach them about why this park is unique, they’ll want to return.”

Ms. Farrell said environmental education is especially good for children because they become more engaged and then “they’ll stay with that their whole life.”

She said she can relate because she’s loved nature since she read “The Shark Lady” in fourth grade and then became fascinated with nature.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through mid-October, and there is no admission fee.

For more information, or specific program offerings, call the center at 482-2479.

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