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Children Get Up Close, Personal With Wildlife At Oglebay Park’s Schrader Environmental Center

Photo by Alan Olson Schrader Environmental Center Naturalist Courtney Comack, in purple, identifies and enthuses about the wildlife that makes its home in and around Waddles Run.

Crocs, boots, and sandals were the fashion of the day near Oglebay Park Wednesday for a Stream Search, a program offered through the park’s Schrader Environmental Education Center.

Around a dozen people from a couple of families tread carefully through the ankle-deep water of Waddles Run, a creek running adjacent to Warden Run Road. Parents and grandparents directed children ranging from young toddlers to teenagers to check under rocks, looking to find the natural wildlife that thrives just under the surface, guided by naturalist Courtney Comack.

Comack began the 45-minute lesson by showing the children enlarged photos of the wildlife they’d be seeking and finding, and how the presence of some gave clues as to the delicate ecosystem of the creek.

“The way I like to tell people is that we’re peeking at the nursery, the babies that live at the bottom. A lot of them are food for other animals, but scientists collect some of them because they can’t escape pollution very quickly, and it tells a lot about the stream.”

One child brought Comack a waterlogged rock bearing flat, round beetles — water-penny beetles, the presence of which indicate a healthy environment, according to the naturalist.

“We must have healthy water. … They’ve got gills all around their body and on their belly, and they cannot tolerate any pollution. That’s a really good sign of clean water,” Comack said.

The same rock had caddisfly larvae, which are distinguished by using threads of silk to bind together debris from its environment to make a long shell around itself.

“I didn’t start working here until about eight years ago, and I had no idea these things existed. We’ve just become so disconnected,” Comack later added. “It’s all connected out here. I love that we’re a part of it.”

One woman, Nancy Hines, was on the scene with three grandchildren, Owen, Eliza and Jack Hines. Hines said Comack had been a great teacher to several of her grandchildren over the years, who knows and loves her work. Owen Hines, a teenager, gave a simple affirmation to how he’d enjoyed his time at the creek.

“It’s cool,” he said.

Stream Search occurs most Wednesdays from 2 to 2:45 p.m. from June to August, with the final one occurring on Aug. 18. The program is $5 per person to enter, or free with an Oglebay activity wristband. Children must be accompanied by an adult. The program meets at the intersection of Wardens Run Road and Falls Drive.

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