'Kids Gone Wild' at Stock Show teaches youngsters about the great outdoors

01/27/2013 10:43 PM

11/12/2014 2:42 PM

FORT WORTH -- It was a frightening and chaotic scene.

They were armed with rifles and bows and arrows. Snakes hissed and coiled all around them, while sharp-eyed raptors surveyed the madness, sensing that easy prey was soon to be had. And the bleached bones of the dead were everywhere.

Oh. And there were a lot of kids there, too.

That's because this seemingly grisly battlefield was actually "Kids Gone Wild," a Stock Show event presented by the Texas Wildlife Association that seeks to teach youngsters about the great outdoors.

"The folks at the Stock Show came to our organization about two years ago and said they wanted to do a kid-centered, wildlife-centered activity. So we came up with the idea of recruiting different organizations from around the area and around the state to help out with this event," said Helen Holdsworth, director of the conservation legacy program at the TWA.

The result was a sprawling event Sunday in the Cattle Arena in the Stock Show's cattle barns that included more than a dozen booths from organizations devoted to enjoying and conserving wildlife and their habitats.

The Fort Worth Zoo's table, for example, displayed a river otter pelt, a python skin and the skulls of a lion, a huge turtle and a fearsome-looking, alligator-like creature from India called a gharial. The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge had a buffalo skull and horns, in addition to birds' nests and a skin molted from a corn snake.

But many of the exhibits included critters that were very much alive -- like Elizabeth, the ball python, who was wrapped around the hand and wrist of Jennifer Pyle like a slithering piece of jewelry.

"Excuse me while I get the circulation back into my fingers," Pyle, of the DFW Herpetological Society, said as she gently unwrapped the small snake, which the society has used in demonstrations for 16 years. "She doesn't [squeeze to] hurt; she does it to hang on. She's afraid of being dropped."

And Elizabeth may have been concerned about hitting the ground because she saw the falcons, red-tailed hawk and screech owl who were drawing stares in the Texas Hawking Association's booth. But, fortunately for Elizabeth, the birds were secured by their handlers and were not allowed to fly around the arena.

There was a Texas Honeybee Guild booth showing how honey is made, with the aid of a cross-section of a working bee hive, and another that showed kids how to make their own bird feeder by taking a pine cone with a pipe cleaner for a handle, covering it in peanut butter and then dipping it into a pan of birdseed.

But while most of the exhibits were about conserving wildlife, a few of the booths were more about thinning their ranks.

One of the most popular stops for the young ones was the stocked fishing pond, where they were given rods to use to try to bring in a big one. Many did land freshwater fish of more than a foot in length, but they were quickly returned to the water in this catch-and-release exhibit.

Also popular was the archery range offered by the Cowtown Bowmen Archery Club, where rubber-tipped arrows were fired at stationary deer, wild boar and turkey targets. And for the true Robin Hoods, large, skeetlike discs were rolled across the arena floor to provide a moving target.

The air guns at the Texas State Rifle Association's booth stayed busy.

And the Texas Youth Hunting Program table attracted young visitors by speaking their language -- video games.

"The Wii is quite a draw for the kids," said Don Coxsey of the TYHP, referring to the console playing a big-game hunting game. "But our main goal is to try to teach ethics. We have a program for kids who have never hunted before, aged 9 through 17, and we take them hunting for a weekend. We get them out in the field and teach about ethics and safety -- things like shoot/no-shoot situations, not shooting game that is too young and not taking a shot that you are not sure about."

Coxsey said the program, which is affiliated with the TWA and Texas Parks and Wildlife, took more than 1,200 young people hunting last year.

To say the event, which is in its second year, was a success would be an understatement. It was scheduled to open at 11 a.m., but kids were already crowding the tables as they were being set up at about 9 a.m. By opening time, the place looked like recess at a large elementary school.

"Yes, this is something new and different for [the Stock Show]. But I think it falls within their mission of educating people about the natural world," said the TWA's Holdsworth. "I hope it will spark a passion in them to get outside. And, more importantly, spark their parents to get them outside."

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