arth Day Event Goes Back To Nature w/ Big Cat Rescue

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By LENORA LAKE, Tribune correspondent

Published: April 19, 2008

THONOTOSASSA – Spending time with nature was important to Dorsey Yawn
as a child, so he seized the opportunity Saturday to give his
grandchildren and their friends a first-hand experience with the

They attended the Woods, Water and Wildlife event at Nature's
Classroom, Hillsborough County school district's environmental
education center. The two-day event, in conjunction with Earth Day,
concludes today.

"I grew up with an outdoor lifestyle; I had a father who taught me to
fish and hunt," Yawn said. "There is so much of nature disappearing
today that I wanted them to see it."

His grandson's friend, Jake Lehrer, 9, got to hold a year-old, 18-inch
alligator. The reptile's tail slapped the arm of his Chiles Elementary
School classmate, Bradley Canerday, who is Yawn's grandson.

"He was kind of smooth but he kept squirming around," Lehrer said.

The first-time festival includes animal encounters, arts and crafts,
live folk and bluegrass music, a nature art show by well-known
photographers and artists, a student art exhibit and displays by local
organizations including Tampa Audubon Society, Big Cat Rescue,
Southwest Florida Water Management District and Tampa Bay Orchid

A 30-minute boat ride on the Hillsborough River gave visitors close-up
views of alligators, snakes, turtles and birds, including roseate
spoonbills and little blue herons.

Karen Folsom, administrator of Nature's Classroom's, said all
Hillsborough County public school sixth-graders visit the center for
three days during the school year. That visit leaves a legacy, she

"We are often asked if we can have families out here. We felt it was
time to open the doors to the public," Folsom said, adding that two
artists assisted in planning the event.

Volunteers from Boy Scouts, Young Life, Armwood High School National
Honor Society and Families Instructing Students at Home assisted with
craft activities, parking and by answering questions about a bear,
raccoon, fox, fox squirrel, alligator and other animals on display.

Some volunteers, like Armwood student Nick Briggs, 17, took a more
hands-on approach – holding a 6-foot-long yellow rat snake for
children to touch.

"I came here in sixth grade. It was really fun and I thought this was
a good chance to come here again and to hang out with the kids,"
Briggs said.

Temple Terrace residents Alyssan Chevaillier, 7, and her sister,
Ashley, 3, liked a smaller red rat snake they could hold in their

"It was kind of weird because it was really squishy and was soft on
the side," said Alyssan, a student at Lewis Elementary said.

Folsom said she was pleased with the first day's attendance of about
1,000 visitors, comments from the guests and the volunteers'

"Next year is our 40th anniversary, so this was a test," Folsom said.

If You Go

WHAT: Woods, Water and Wildlife: An Earth Day Celebration and Nature
Art Show with animal encounters, children's activities, boat rides,
music, food vendors

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today

WHERE: Nature's Classroom, 13100 Verges Road, Thonotosassa

DONATION: $4 per car

INFORMATION: (813) 987-6969

Correspondent Lenora Lake can be reached at (813) 865-4851 or

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

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