NORMAN — Park naturalist Kathy Furneaux knows she’s done her job when someone leaves the Lake Thunderbird Discovery Cove Nature Center with knowledge they didn’t have when they walked in.
Individuals of all ages have an even better chance of doing that this summer, with the nature center open seven days a week and themed nature classes for children held every weekend.
“People need to know about nature,” Furneaux said. “It’s part of what we instinctively need to know.”
On Saturday, Furneaux taught two free classes about amphibians to about 10 children. They learned everything from the sounds various amphibians make to how certain frogs can change colors.
“In today’s way of life, too many kids are not exposed to nature, and they lose a very important connection,” Furneaux said. “One of the things I like to see is how impressed they are when they find out things are real.”
Furneaux brought out live frogs, toads and a salamander to show to the children during the lesson.
“They know that you can photoshop anything, computer animate anything, and they look real, but kids, I think, no longer know what’s real and what isn’t,” she said. “So when they come in here and find out things may be dead but they are the real thing, then I get the ‘wow’ sort of response.”
After the lesson, the children had a craft session during which Furneaux walked them through how to make their own frog puppets and origami frogs that jump if folded correctly.
“I enjoy seeing people learn about nature — the adults, not just the kids,” Furneaux said.
In the woods of Lake Thunderbird State Park, Furneaux waits, eager to tell people all they want to know about nature.
The Norman area is an interesting place to study nature because there is a mix of prairie and wooded areas, Furneaux said.
“That means that you have three different kinds of animals and plants — woodland-type things, prairie-type things and ones that like to be on the borders,” she said. “We get a tremendous variety here in Oklahoma.”
One thing Furneaux can count on is that no two days will be the same at the nature center.
“When I come in in the morning I don’t know what kind of day I’m going to have, and anything can happen in here,” she said. “And that’s kind of nice, actually.”
Furneaux is available in the nature center five days a week with her summer intern, Hannah Cruce, covering the two days she’s not there.
Cruce, a natural resources senior at Oklahoma State University, is spending two months working and living at Thunderbird to assist Furneaux in the nature center.
“I really like the kids, especially how excited they get when you tell them something they don’t know,” Cruce said.
Children can attend weekend classes through the end of July to learn about everything from turtles to trees. Children ages 12 and under also have the opportunity to earn a free nature poster if they collect at least 20 pieces of trash in the park and take them to the nature center.
Those interested in visiting the nature center can walk in or schedule a group lesson by calling 405-321-5670 or emailing Kathy Furneaux at email@example.com.