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A Scavenger Hunt of Nature

For five days in June, Powdermill gives individuals and families the chance to see, touch, and really feel nature alongside the field scientists lucky enough to do it for a living.

BioForay 2005 begins on Wednesday, June 15, with an evening outdoor barbeque and orientation meeting. Thursday through Saturday are field days, with a reception on Saturday evening and a few new evening activities each day for participants to enjoy. Sunday, June 19, is the free public day. For more information, call 724.593.6105



Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientist Chen Young (right) leads a BioForay excursion.







Once spring arrives in the sun-starved Northeast and nature’s colors thankfully turn from brown to brilliant shades of green, thoughts of getting back to nature can overcome even the most ardent couch potato. Still, the story of a teenager so inspired by the wonders of nature that she happily wakes up at the crack of dawn to go exploring in the thick, damp woods sounds a bit like science fiction.

It’s a fact, not fiction, says mom Patricia Hasbach, a Pittsburgh psychologist who visited Powdermill Nature Reserve with her daughter during last year’s annul BioForay. In a review of their experience, Hasbach wrote: “I knew the weekend was successful when I woke my teenage daughter at 5:30 a.m. to go bird banding and she awoke with a smile and said, ‘I was dreaming of science.’

“ We had a wonderful time,” Hasbach added. “The professionals there were accessible, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.”

Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s 2,200-acre nature reserve and biological field station in the Ligonier Valley is a warm, welcoming place for scientists, environmentalists, and amateur nature lovers all year round. But for five days in June, it becomes particularly alive with fun and exploration during the annual BioForay, now in its fourth year.

Call it a scientific version of an outdoor scavenger hunt: An area of about 75 acres is divided into a grid of 50-meter squares; then, teams of experts and amateur naturalists methodically identify all the organisms found within each square and record their precise locations. They identify birds by their songs; they catch snakes and mammals in safe live traps and release them after recording their vital stats; they gather insects, spiders, and snails for accurate species identification at the Museum of Natural History in Oakland; and they identify the eclectic plantlife.

It’s serious science: Powdermill scientists are using the information from each BioForay to build an impressive database that will become an important tool for studying and preserving the environment well into the future. But in Powdermill’s warm and welcoming way, serious science can and should be open to everyone. And it is. At each BioForay, amateurs are invited to sign up to work alongside field scientists as they survey and document the land and its treasures. The cost is minimal, and the experience is priceless.

The last day of the BioForay is the “public day”—or, perhaps more fitting, family day. Powdermill field scientists and educators, Museum of Natural History scientists, and guest scientists from across the country set up shop under tents to share their work with visitors. Powdermill also organizes kids activities throughout the day—all free to the public.

“ It’s a wonderful day,” says Theresa Gay Rohall, education coordinator for Powdermill. “The scientists are so generous with their time. And there’s no such thing as a dumb question; they’re here to interact with everyone.”

Rohall says that just under 300 acres of Powdermill land will have been studied after this year’s BioForay— with many more to go.

That’s good news for amateur nature sleuths who still want to get in on the action, and even better news for parents like Patricia Hasbach, who dare to dream that there’s still a place where kids can be inspired by nothing more than what the natural world has to offer.

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