CCEP green heron logo Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve

December 2013 Newsletter


Fall Family Programs

Friendly Faces

Tales from the Trails

Nature Neighbors



The Bunker Interpretive

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

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Contributing Writers:

Julie Wilbourn,
Department Assistant

Leah Jonker,
Program Assistant

Sheila DeVries,
Program Assistant/
Program Leader

Jeanette Henderson,
Program Manager

Fall Family Programs

Our free First Saturday programs have returned for fall! 

Squirrels and their Cousins
November 2, 2013 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
Come learn more about squirrels and their cousins with Miss Sheila. Play some fun, squirrely games and go on a hike to observe squirrels and chipmunks in the preserve. This program is great for families with children ages 3-12.

Winter Weeds Walk
December 7, 2013 at 10:30 am - 12 pm
As a family, participate in a winter weed scavenger hunt, and learn how to identify plants in the winter. Then create snow bouquets out of winter weeds for winter birds to enjoy. This program is geared for families with children ages 5-12.

Click here for more details.

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Friendly Faces

joel bettsIntroducing: Joel Betts, Educational Program Leader

What do you do at the preserve?
I lead elementary school programs, usually kindergarten to fifth grade from public and Christian schools. They come for programs about topics such as Terrific Trees, Beech Maple Forest Exploration, and Sensory Adventures. The programs are tailored to what the kids are studying in their science classes at school. For example, we led Terrific Trees today, because the kids were studying photosynthesis and tree ecology. It fit nicely into their lessons.

Why do you like working at the preserve?
I love kids, and there are not enough kids around Calvin's campus. I love interacting with them and feeding off their energy. I also really love the mission of environmental education and making people aware of their environment, and teaching them how we relate to nature and how ecosystems work. It's really valuable information. So much of education is about how we can later serve, but this is how I can serve now with what I know.

What is your biggest challenge as a Program Leader?
Keeping the kids interested and engaged is always a challenge. We have to find a balance between letting them have fun in nature, while helping them learn to the best of their ability. It's also hard to keep it short enough. We have to fit the topic into an hour and a half, and almost always the kids have questions and comments. We can't just lecture the kids. We have to interact and take advantage of the things we see around us, because that's what is exciting for them in the moment. Today we saw a salamander, so we digressed for a bit to talk about Salamander ecology. Taking those chances to teach is exciting, but sometimes challenging to stay on schedule and on topic.

What advice can you give prospective students and freshman to encourage their involvement at the preserve?
If they're interested in an education career in any form, the Preserve is a great way to learn about teaching and to get an ecological perspective. It's such a great job that I sometimes forget I get paid for it. I would do this anyway, because it's so fun and I think it's the best job on campus for that reason. It's not the easiest job, of course, since it takes work outside of work to prepare for lessons, but it's worth it.

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Tales from the Trails

Reflections of Emily Brittenham, former Preserve Steward in 2001

What is your favorite memory from the preserve?
The preserve was one of my favorite places at Calvin. I loved walking the trails and enjoying the beauty of Creation through all the seasons. Some of my favorite memories are from the summer that I worked on the preserve under the direction of Randy VanDragt. I have very fond memories of walking through the dew covered fields early in the morning with my binoculars and notebook, conducting bird surveys.

What did you learn from your job at the preserve?
I learned a lot that summer - many new species of bird, as well as how to train my eyes and ears to find them. I also gained experience doing mammal surveys and pond invertebrate studies, among other things. I think the most valuable thing I took away from my experience was a greater love and appreciation for the beauty of Creation. Keeping detailed field notes trained me to notice the small details, while at the same time enjoying the beauty and glory displayed in the bigger picture.

What do you do now, and how did your job experience at the preserve influence your career, family life, faith, or lifestyle in general?
I am currently a stay at home mom, and I feel blessed to be able to explore the natural world with my little girls every day. We live on five beautiful acres, and it is so fun to watch them get excited over worms, toads, flowers, snakes, and robins, just to name a few.

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Nature Neighbors

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

Meet Your Neighbor: Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

eastern chipmunkDescription: Grows up to 5-6 inches long, has a tail 3-4 inches long. Five dark brown stripes contrast with two light brown stripes, and run along the reddish-brown fur on its back. Light stripes over the eyes are distinguishing features from ground squirrels and other small mammals. Its dark, bushy tail stands straight up while running.
Voice: A sharp chattering. In fact, they get the name chipmunk from their "chip-chip" sound.
Diet: Nuts, berries, seeds, and fruit.
Habitat: Found in bushy, wooded regions, specifically deciduous forests. Often they are found in urban parks, where they hide among rocks and shrubs.
Interesting Facts: The Eastern Chipmunk lives most of its life in solitude, ignoring its neighbors except during mating season. Their average lifespan is 3-4 years, but some can live up to 8 years. They do not eat to store body fat for hibernation, but instead spend the summer and fall collecting food. During winter, Eastern Chipmunks wake on warmer days to eat from the cache in their burrow. They can burrow up to 30 feet deep! Their burrows have chambers for storing food, bedrooms for sleeping, and even a chamber for going to the bathroom.

Be a Good Neighbor:

Though it is tempting to throw a piece of bread or cracker for these adorable critters to munch on, please refrain from it. In order to survive hibernation, Eastern Chipmunks need to store food with the proper nutrition. Human food is full of carbohydrates and does not provide sufficient nutrients. It may also bother their digestive system. By feeding these wild critters, they become reliant on our feeding schedule. Due to this reliance, many do not survive winter.

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Unplugged: Connecting with Nature

pine cone ornamentChristmas may seem like a long way off, but there's no time like the present to get ready. That's why this edition's unplugged activity is a pine cone Christmas ornament! You may remember making these as a child. They are simple to make, and they last a long time. Plus, they are a natural addition to your Christmas tree. Enjoy reminiscing in the coming years about the fun you had making these ornaments.

You will need: pine cones, ribbon, glue, paint and/or glitter.

First step: go pine cone collecting! Your family will likely find some in your neighborhood around the base of a coniferous (needle leaf) tree. The more open the cone is, the better the finished ornament will look, but any pine cone will do. You can force pine cones to open by heating them in the oven on aluminum foil at the lowest temperature possible (200 degrees or less) for about 20-30 minutes.  Remove them when they have opened (but before they burn), and allow them to cool. The sap melts and creates a glaze on the cone, and the cones' natural scent will waft through your house. Next step: decorate the ornament. One way is to paint the pine cone a solid color, like metallic gold or silver, or even pink or orange, if you are feeling so inspired. Another way to decorate the pine cone is to put a dollop of glue on the ends of the scales, then sprinkle the glue with some glitter and let it dry. The finished product will look like a miniature tree with snow on the branches. Last step: tie or glue a ribbon to the top of the pine cone to hang the ornament on the tree.

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