N.D. park naturalist seeks to share natureTina Harding plunges her arm into the snow up to her elbow, waits a couple of minutes, then pulls out her reddened bare hand and tells the children watching her that the snow has warmed it up.
By: By Ann Bailey, The Herald, The Jamestown Sun
TURTLE RIVER STATE PARK, N.D. — Tina Harding plunges her arm into the snow up to her elbow, waits a couple of minutes, then pulls out her reddened bare hand and tells the children watching her that the snow has warmed it up.
The children, who just tried the same experiment themselves, are skeptical because their own fingers are freezing. Harding explains to them that they didn’t keep their hands in the snow long enough for it to heat them up. If they had, she tells them, the snow eventually would have insulated it, much the same way it does burrowing animals.
The hands-on work that Harding, Turtle River State Park outdoor learning center coordinator and interpretative naturalist, is doing with the children a class called “Snug in the Snow.” It is one of a dozen featured in the park’s winter program which continues Saturdays through February.
Her job at the park is to provide opportunities for the public to learn about nature through programs offered to the public at the Turtle River State Park Outdoor Learning Center or programs available to people who camp in the park during the summer.
The programs are one of the ways Harding is working to combat the growing disconnect between children and nature. These days, children can learn about nature without ever stepping into the outdoors, Harding said.
“But they don’t experience it. That’s what we’re fighting,” she said.
Harding is armed with the right tools to combat what she and other outdoors experts believe is a disturbing trend. Besides college degrees in natural resource management and outdoor recreation, she grew up communing with nature — first in Sarasota, Fla., where she lived across the street from a municipal park, and later in the foothills at the base of the Cherokee National Forest near Benton, Tenn.
“We grew up in a very down-to-earth atmosphere,” Harding said. “We weren’t entertained by a lot of electronics. It was whatever we could find to keep ourselves busy. We had to rely on our own wits for entertainment. “
She and her 10 brothers and sisters amused themselves by playing in the woods, fishing and hiking. Sometimes, she just quietly communed with nature.
“I did a lot of just sitting in the woods sketching. We had this hill on the back of our property that was all hardwoods. I liked going to the top of the hill and watching nature go by,” she recalled.
Harding’s parents also were nature lovers.
“My parents camped all the time,” she said.
And not in a recreational vehicle.
“It was tent camping,” she said. “That’s where I learned to sleep outside under the stars.”
When Harding was 16, she got her first chance to share her interest in nature with other young people.
“We got a phone call from the high school that they were looking for someone to teach water biology and ecology, and high and low ropes for the YMCA,” Harding said.
After that, she taught white water rafting for the YMCA and later, sailing, canoeing at a Girl Scout Camp.
Harding worked a variety of outdoor-related jobs during and after she got her college degrees, then in 2005, she and her husband moved from Tennessee to Grand Forks, where she took a temporary job in recreational leisure services at the University of North Dakota. This spring, she got the job at the park.
“I really enjoy the outdoor recreational side, providing opportunities for people to get out and explore nature and discovering their passion for nature,” she said.
While teaching young people is an important part of her job, inspiring them is even more, Harding said.
“If they discover a passion for nature they’re going to help us protect it,” she said.
Harding’s own childhood seems to support the theory that instilling a love of nature in children will pay off with adult stewardship and admiration for it. As a resident of Turtle River State park who lives in one of the cabins, she enjoys hiking, fishing and bicycling its 784 acres during the summer.
Harding, who was accustomed to hibernating with other Tennesseans when the weather drops below 40 degrees, has learned to embrace the cold, snowy North Dakota winters, ice fishing at the Larimore Dam and cross country skiing at the park.
She also enjoys simply sitting on her back porch and watching the deer, raccoons and birds.
“You know you’re in the right place for yourself when you feel better,” she said. “I’m healthier than I’ve been for a long time.”
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