CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

March/April 2014 Newsletter


Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

First Saturdays

More Upcoming Programs & Events

Friendly Faces

Tales from the Trails

Nature Neighbors



Walking trails are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.

Bunker Interpretive Center (BIC) hours

Academic year:
M–F  9 a.m.–5 p.m.

M–F  8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Closed weekends and holidays.

Admission to the trails and BIC is free.

1750 East Beltline Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
(616) 526-7600

Like us on Facebook

Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve on Pinterest

Contributing Writers:

Julie Wilbourn,
Department Assistant

Leah Jonker,
Program Assistant/
Program Leader

Sheila DeVries,
Program Assistant/
Program Leader

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps

Our ever-popular Wetlands & Woodlands summer camps are fun, hands-on learning adventures for children ages 4-13. Campers have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors, and develop a greater understanding of God´s creation.
This summer´s camp themes for 4-8 year olds are: Aquatic Adventures (Dive Into Michigan's Wetlands), and Blooms & Bugs (Sunflowers, Bees, & Seeds).

Jr. Naturalist topics of study for 9-11 year olds are: limnology (study of bodies of fresh water, including biological, chemical, and physical features), botany (focusing on flowers), entomology (study of insects) , and ichthyology (study of fish). These campers also take an off-site field trip one day during camp to a fish hatchery.

The camp theme for 11-13 year olds is being finalized! Please check our website next week for details.

Registration opens Saturday, March 1 at 9 a.m.!
For more information and to register, click here.

back to top

First Saturdays

Presenting the final First Saturday programs of our series!  These programs are free, and appropriate for families with children ages 5-12.

Rascally Raccoons
March 1 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Come discover more about your neighborhood raccoons at this fun, informative program. We will learn more about raccoons and their habitats while we play some games. We will also learn how raccoons have adapted to live in an urban setting.

Foxes & Coyotes in the City
April 5 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Join Miss Leah as she reveals how coyotes and foxes survive within urban areas. You will learn about the unique characteristics and adaptions of these major predators, and have an opportunity to play predator and prey games.

Click here for more details.

back to top

More Upcoming Programs & Events

Mark your calendar to save these important dates:

Spring Break
Enjoy our free, family programs at the preserve April 7 - 11.  We will have lots of activities planned all week long; the program schedule will be posted in March.

Critters & Company Spring Series
Get ready for more pre-school fun and learning starting April 22.  Registration opens March 1.

Native Plant Sale
Go native with us on Saturday, May 3 at 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.  Spring will come, and when it does, plan to incorporate beautiful, easy to care for native plants into your garden.

back to top

Friendly Faces

LeahIntroducing: Leah Jonker, Program Assistant and Program Leader

What is your role at the preserve?
I have a few roles. My primary position is Program Assistant, in which I spend most of my time writing articles, designing displays, preparing for programs, and creating signage. Most of my work is behind the scenes interpretation. In addition, I am a Program Leader, in which I develop and present nature programs to groups of all ages.

What is your biggest challenge as an interpreter?
The biggest challenge is knowing your audience. When designing displays or writing articles, it is important to know who is viewing them and what the best method of explanation is to connect with them. It takes a lot of thought when designing interpretive pieces to best understand those on the receiving end.

What are the rewards of your job?
It is exciting to see my work in action, watching visitors interact with a display or learn from a sign. I love to learn, but I also love to watch others learn, so the most rewarding part of being an interpreter is seeing someone´s face light up when they get something out of what is presented.

How is this job preparing you for your future?
My dream is to be an Interpretive Park Ranger in a National Park. My positions here at the preserve have led me to this dream by giving me a feel for how interpretation works within a natural environment. My place here at the preserve is not about the money or the hours, but the experience and the training. There is no better job to prepare me for my future.

back to top


Tales from the Trails

Reflections of Sara Systma, former Program Leader & Preserve Steward in 2005-2009

What is your favorite story, memory, or experience from the preserve?
One of my most entertaining memories from the preserve was from when I was a steward and I was walking through the back section of the preserve (where people are not supposed to go), and an entire high school boy's track team suddenly came running through the woods past me. I was so taken aback to see them there that I was speechless and didn't say anything. I felt kind of bad about this later, because I also watched them run through a large patch of poison ivy in their running shorts.

What did you learn from your job at the preserve?
Being a Preserve Steward reinforced for me how much I enjoy being outside in God's creation, and then being a Program Leader helped me to see how I also love sharing a passion for the creation with others.

What do you do now, and how did your job experience at the preserve influence your career, family life, faith, or lifestyle in general?
Right now, I am working as a livestock intern at World Hunger Relief, Inc. in Waco, TX, as preparation for going to Uganda as a missionary. My husband Anthony and I will be working with World Renew there starting in February 2014. My years of working in the preserve during college and seminary gave me a lot of peace, and were good for my soul in the midst of so much time spent inside studying, writing papers, and doing homework.

back to top

Nature Neighbors

You might find this neighbor at the preserve and near your neighborhood!

Meet Your Neighbor: Woodchuck (Marmota monax)

woodchuckDescription: Stout-bodied rodent, about 20 inches long.  Covered in long, coarse, grayish-brown fur with white tips, giving it a distinctive "frosted" appearance. Bushy tail; thick, curved claws for digging; sharp, white teeth shaped for chiseling.
Voice: Use a high-pitched whistle when alarmed to warn the rest of the colony (hence the common name "whistle-pig"). Other sounds include low barks and teeth-chatter.
Habitat: Northeastern and central United States, and Canada. Commonly live along forest edges abutting meadows, open fields, roads, and streams.
Diet: Mostly herbivorous, eating wild grasses, leaves, bark, seeds, grains, nuts, berries, flowers. Also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, and snails. Woodchucks hydrate by eating leafy plants rather than drinking from a water source.
Interesting Facts: Woodchucks are true hibernators. They feed heavily in summer and early fall, accumulating huge fat reserves, then curl up in their burrows in winter, dropping their body temperature and slowing down their heart rate. They emerge from hibernation in March, at which time you can find fresh dirt at the main entrance of their burrows. The average woodchuck moves about 5,500 lbs. of soil to dig a tunnel up to 46 ft. long and 5 ft. underground. Each burrow is designed with two to five entrances for escape routes in case of danger.  Woodchucks are also known as groundhogs, are solitary animals, and are good swimmers and climbers.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Many farmers and homeowners consider woodchucks to be pests, since their tunnel-building behavior can be destructive to gardens and building foundations. Unless they are very troublesome, leave their burrows alone and they will not harm you. Keep in mind these burrows often provide refuge for other wildlife and contribute to the aeration of the soil, and many people enjoy watching one of the few larger wild mammals commonly seen during the day. If necessary, set live-traps and relocate the woodchuck to an open field apart from urban areas. Another method of protecting property is to build a fence that extends underground, preventing woodchucks from burrowing underneath.

back to top

Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

cardinalEven though large blankets of snow still cover the ground, male cardinals have begun to sing their spring mating songs. Their "cheer-cheer" song brightens the day, and is a reminder that spring is indeed coming. One of our favorite spring activities is to spend time outside watching and listening for the return of all the migratory birds. It´s a great activity for all ages to enjoy together.

If you are new to the hobby of birding, check out Cornell´s Lab of Ornithology´s All About Birds website. From a section on birding basics to an extensive online identification guide (complete with recordings of songs and calls), the website contains everything you need to get started. Cornell Lab also just launched a brand new app for your smart device, called Merlin Bird ID. It's super simple to use, and helps you identify birds you observe 'in the field'. Here at the preserve, we keep a journal and record the date that we see each species return, and their breeding behavior. If you want to keep track of all of your spring bird sightings like we do, sign up for an eBird account. EBird is a real-time, online checklist program that allows you to record and track your sightings, and also see what other birders are observing in your area. As a bonus, your observations (combined with others in the international network of eBird users) are shared with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists working to conserve birds. All of these tools are free of charge.

Get started birding today by learning the songs and calls of the Northern Cardinal, and spend some time outside listening for its announcement that spring is on the way.

back to top