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Exploring nature at Tryon Creek


Learning to interpret the natural world

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Volunteer nature guide Bob Snyder displays the educational offerings in the Tryon Creek State Natural Area Nature Centers classroom.Not far from Lake Oswego, two tarantulas and a corn snake dwell inside a classroom in the woods, co-habitating the space with taxidermied creatures including a beaver, mole, chipmunk, coyote and a flock of owls — great-horned, pigmy, sow-whet, gray and screech.

Because classes frequently keep it closed off to visitors, not everyone knows of the small educational space tucked inside of the Nature Center at Tryon Creek State Natural Area, a 670-acre park that has its southern portion in Lake Oswego.

During Nature Discovery Days on Wednesdays during August, the curious-minded have the chance to learn more about what lies within the classroom’s walls and what educational opportunities exist at the park.

Volunteer nature guide Bob Snyder was on hand last week at the classroom, showing off pelts, bones and animals, stuffed and live. Animals were not killed for the display but found dead and brought to life again, in a way, for science.

“The fun stuff as far as the kids are concerned is anything you can touch and hold,” said Snyder, who is also a Friends of Tryon Creek board member.

Owls, most of which are solitary and nocturnal, are plentiful in the park, but the classroom’s stuffed gray owl, preferring cold mountaintops, is from another area, Snyder said. The species of the other taxidermied animals in the classroom can be found in the park.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Volunteer nature guide Bruce Rottink escorts hikers through the woods of Tryon Creek State Natural Area.

Snyder, retired after 35 years of experience as a school administrator, said the aim of nature interpretation is to help students learn how the natural world is interconnected, showing them the outside world and building lessons on what they see. Snyder said nature interpretation is akin to the philosophy renowned naturalist John Muir espoused.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” Muir said.

Volunteer nature guide Bruce Rottink is meeting a group of hikers this month at the classroom right after Discovery Days, taking his group through the park and illuminating the hidden world of the woods, signs of quiet, elusive wildlife and the secrets of lush flora. Taking greater note of the forest’s denizens can hold up a hike, however.

“When you know what’s going on out there, it’s hard to walk fast,” Rottink said.

Friends of Tryon Creek Day Camp Director and Youth Program Coordinator Casey Newman said learning opportunities abound when students, age 4 to seventh grade, roam the outdoors. Activities include seeking signs of coyotes, studying snails, listening for birdcalls, geocaching and performing science experiments such as water testing Tryon Creek.

Older campers can experience away trips including Going Wild in the Gorge next week, where they will go chasing waterfalls while hiking and camping. Newman said she loves the excitement on the children’s faces after one of their adventures.

“It’s great to see that sense of accomplishment,” Newman said.

Rottink, who has a doctorate in tree physiology, said the Nature Center is the kind of place where people, adults and children, feel comfortable and content. At least that’s how he felt when he first landed there.

“It just felt like this was my home — this was my home right here,” he said, standing proudly in the center’s classroom.