Extension Team Takes Turtles, Maple Syrup and Fishing Skills to Clay County Fair



AMES, Iowa — Clay County Fair goers got a taste of Iowa syrup making when they visited Jesse Randall, Iowa State University Extension forester, at the Iowa State sugar house Sept. 10-18. Randall used the display to explain the history of syrup making and the how to tap trees, collect sap and boil the sap to make syrup to hundreds of people each day, including more than 800 students and chaperones from the AgCiting program. AgCiting brings third and fourth graders from nearby school district to the Spencer fair for experiential learning.

“We use the sugar house to teach people how to make maple syrup,” Randall said. “This is a way to expose folks to a very sweet Iowa tradition which I’d like to see expand in the state.” He said most of the students knew maple syrup came from a tree, but they thought it was right from the tree to the bottle. Adults are often amazed that syrup can be made from any maple, including box elder, and that it can be produced in a rather inexpensive manner at home from trees in their windbreak groves.

“Giving out real maple syrup samples was an eye-opener for the kids. Several third graders even brought their parents back after they went home from school and showed them the sugar house,” Randall said. While folks generally are surprised syrup is made in the Midwest, Randall said he met small-scale producers from Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota while at the Clay County Fair.

For one day of the fair, Randall was joined by the other members of the Iowa State University Natural Resource Ecology and Management Extension and Outreach team – Rebecca Christoffel, wildlife specialist, and Allen Pattillo, aquaculture and fisheries specialist. Christoffel seldom makes a public appearance or presentation without introducing audiences to creatures from the wild; her trip to the Clay County Fair was no exception. Groups of school children at the fair were a captive audience when she introduced them to Blanding’s turtles and protective actions they can take to conserve the turtles.

“Iowa is home to 13 different kinds of turtles, though most people are only familiar with snapping turtles and painted turtles,” Christoffel said. “The Blanding’s turtle can travel more than a mile in its search for a suitable nesting spot and live for more than 75 years.”

Christoffel told students and other fair audiences that to help conserve Blanding’s turtles, Iowa needs to maintain and restore wetlands, slow down and watch out for them during nesting season mid-May through mid-July and leave them in the wild. Her day at the fair with other members of the extension team was a way to reach Iowans, especially large groups of school children, and increase their understanding of Iowa’s natural resources and outdoor sporting opportunities.

Allen Pattillo learned to appreciate and experienced natural resources growing up and believes it is important to today’s youth to have similar experiences. “Providing opportunities for children to learn hands-on about our environment and realize that there is lots of fun to be had without the use of a remote control is integral to getting people aware, respectful and most of all involved with management efforts to ensure that outdoor sports can be enjoyed by future generations,” Pattillo said. “Learning to tie fishing knots successfully gives children a sense of pride and interest that may lead them to become interested in taking up fishing and protecting our fisheries.”

The ISU Extension Natural Resource Ecology and Management team offers educational opportunities so Iowans more fully enjoy Iowa’s natural resources and can make informed decisions that impact those resources. To learn more, visit http://www.nrem.iastate.edu/extension/.

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Photo identification: Rebecca Christoffel, ISU Extension wildlife specialist, introduces students to a Blanding's turtle at the Clay County Fair.