Backpacks Help Children Explore Nature

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Outdoor adventure and a bit of fun with your children is just a backpack away.

Bernalillo Parks and Recreation service is launching a new program aimed at getting children away from video games and television and have them start exploring the county's Bachechi Open Space in Albuquerque's North Valley.

How it works is visitors to the open space call ahead, then check out a backpack for their child. Each backpack has a different theme. It could be a pack for budding birding enthusiasts and have a pair of binoculars and a digital device to play bird calls, or it could be a bug hunter's backpack and have a bug net and lots of information on the creepy-crawlies in the area.

The backpacks are designed to be used to explore within the Bachechi Open Space, a 27-acre property located at the southwest corner of Alameda and Rio Grande.

According to Heather Toman, an Americorps summer volunteer who helped put the backpack program together, the real goal is just to give kids a toehold that will help them on their way to becoming outdoor enthusiasts.

"I love nature and I want kids to have an appreciation themselves," she said.

Whatever the underlying motivation, 6-year-old Scarlet Abraham said she had fun with the birding backpack. Scarlet said she likes every kind of bird.

Getting children like Scarlet out to see the open space, and explore the natural world is what it's all about, according to open space coordinator Colleen Langan-McRoberts.

"So much of our environment is inundated with technology," she said. "It's just wonderful to remember that we are connected to the environment. … Without understanding our connection with nature, we're not going to be able to care for it in the future."

Some children have an actual fear of the outdoors and the living things that inhabit some of the more natural places in the state, she said. This is a way to ease children into the outdoors in a controlled, safe environment.

"It's something really exciting to do on the weekend with little ones," she said.

The county asks for participants to reserve a backpack by calling 514-4388. The packs are available on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon. Because it is a pilot project at this point, the backpack program is only scheduled to run through Aug. 12.

Also, when the participants check out the backpack, they are asked to drop off an ID, such as a drivers license, which will be returned when the pack is brought back.

In the East Mountains

Bernalillo County is making use of its open spaces on the east side of the Sandias as well.

The county is holding a forum on traditional plant uses, preparations and seed saving on Aug. 11 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Carlito Springs Open Space. During the forum, a group of knowledgeable individuals will share tips and tricks for using and preparing plants and saving seeds.

On Sept. 8, the county hold another event at Carlito Springs, this one to help celebrate Old Route 66. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Learn about and celebrate the history, impact and significance of the Mother Road with a series of lectures, a bit of music and a book signing or two.

Then the county will hold an event Ojito de San Antonio Open Space on Oct. 20 to celebrate the first settlers and the pioneers of the East Mountains. From 10 a.m. to noon, Denise Tessier, president of the East Mountain Historical Society, will tell stories of the people who came in with rifles, horse-drawn wagons and helped shape the land we know today.

For more information about these or any other open space events, email Langan-McRoberts at calangan@bernco.gov or call 314-0398.