- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Long known as a destination for bass fishermen, Smallwood State Park has much more to offer this summer.
“We’ve always wanted to have interpretation in this park, and I’ve always loved doing education,” said Elena Gilroy, a ranger at the park.
Gilroy, along with summer naturalist Meladah Rabie, worked to put together programs open to children and hikers who want to explore the park in Marbury, one that also houses historic Smallwood’s Retreat House and the Mattawoman Creek Art Center.
On a recent Wednesday morning, Gilroy led the Kids Corner program, which is open to children in elementary school or younger.
Campfires are held some Friday evenings, and morning hikes are held on Saturdays.
The six-week Junior Rangers program for children 9 to 12 is open for children who want to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at a park, and animal feedings are held once a week.
There is a group for middle-schoolers and younger who do crafts like tie-dying T-shirts with natural dyes, a group that Gilroy’s younger sister, Brynna Bode, usually joins.
She also tags along for the Kids Corner program sometimes.
“If they like [nature] now, it will stay,” Brynna said about the importance of teaching children early about the environment.
The Kids Corner program has a different theme each week — snakes, turtles, eagles or butterflies, like the most recent meeting.
The program is held in the park’s discovery room, a space that used to be rented out for private functions.
Now it is stuffed with bookcases, glass tanks housing snakes and turtles, binoculars and crafts.
It’s like a homecoming for Gilroy, a farm girl who grew up catching crawfish and bullfrogs.
She came to the park for similar programs when she was young.
“I have a picture of me 20 years ago in this building,” she said. “It comes around full circle.”
Cara Stonestreet and her daughter Kinley, 1½, came to the program because of Kinley’s love of nature.
‘”If we can be outside, we’re outside,” Stonestreet said. “She’s in love with dogs … all animals, really. Even bugs and frogs.”
As a teacher, Stonestreet said she enjoys giving Kinley different learning opportunities and exposing her daughter to new educational experiences.
“Learning is how we keep growing,” Stonestreet said.
Cousins Lisa Ballard of Baltimore and Melanie Proffer of St. Mary’s County stopped by with their children, Victoria Ballard and Caitlin and Nathan Proffer.
The family was camping at the park for girls-only time (Nathan came along because he’s still too young for the family’s boys-only campout later).
Ballard said camping is good family bonding time, and it helps teach the kids to be independent.
While camping, the youngsters are responsible for putting together their own packs and help out with cooking.
“They absorb everything … they’re exploring,” Ballard said.
It’s good to get outside and disconnect from technology, she said.
Her daughter, Victoria, 7, seems to be a budding naturalist.
While adding glitter and embellishments to her colored butterfly picture, she chatted with Gilroy.
“The checkered spot butterfly is the state butterfly, and it is endangered,” said Victoria, gluing purple confetti pieces to her picture.
“Yes,” Gilroy said in triumph, obviously happy that a 7-year-old not only knows the state butterfly, but can describe it has being black, orange and white.
Teaching about the environment and nature is Gilroy’s calling, she said.
“I think it’s really important to teach people about the nature around them,” she said. “There is so much more to explore outside.”