School may be out for the summer, but that doesn't mean that the learning has to stop. Victorian Shamblen, who has been Plymouth County's naturalist for the past year, has developed a series of fascinating and enlightening educational programs about the great outdoors that are sure to keep any age group interested and provide ample opportunity to have fun too.
"I am offering programs for a variety of ages from camping on the weekends to educational seminars for anybody that is interested in nature," said Shamblen.
Shamblen has worked to better inform park attendees on campground programs and the conservation board starting with an annual Memorial Day weekend presentation consisting of an impressive plethora of topics dealing predominately with camping.
During two weeks in June, Shamblen teaches courses for adults and young adults about canoeing, orienteering, wildlife identification, fire building, and cooking.
Several days throughout July and August, nature lovers can pack a sack lunch and bring a blanket and head to the Hillview Park picnic shelter near Hinton and learn about all kinds of critters such as insects, turtles, amphibians, owls, elk, and turkeys.
If you prefer to hit the Plymouth County nightlife, Shamblen recommends the 'Full Moon Hike' which will take place on July10 and August 9. Adventurers will be treated to a buffet of knowledge about local latenight prowlers like owls and bats as well as learn about astronomy and the solar system.
Because there are so many public places to hunt in Plymouth County, a hunter's education training will be held July 18 through July 20. Attendees must pre-register with the conservation office and only people who are 11 and up are allowed to participate.
As the summer starts to wind down, three separate camping trips are planned in August. Participants are asked to pay five dollars and pre-register, but they'll enjoy a beautiful day of canoeing down the mighty Big Sioux.
On August 10 and 11, a conservation camp for kids will be offered where kids ages 12 to 15 will learn valuable outdoor skills such as safe gun handling, using a compass, and canoeing. As with many of the programs, a pre-registration is required.
For those who wish to show their competitive spirit, a kid's fishing derby will take place on August 19 at Hillview Park near Hinton from 12-3 p.m. and registration is required.
Though the calendar is chocked full of fun educational opportunities during the summer months, Shamblen's duties are year-round.
"I wear many hats at work. Anything from going to schools, to field trips, to talking to the general public groups as well as nursing homes, I go to all those places to talk about our natural resources," said an ambitious Shamblen.
She enjoys presenting to senior citizen residential homes and has a program affectionately referred to as 'OWLS' which stands for 'Older, Wiser, Livelier Seniors' and she hopes to someday take some high school students on a longer backpacking trip to Montana or Idaho to do a service project with the National Forest Service.
Shamblen and the other conservation staff members and board are also in the initial stages of drawing up plans for a brand new indoor education facility that will sit at Hillview Park near Hinton. A few neighboring counties have started constructing similar facilities and Plymouth County wants to stay at the forefront of conservation leadership in the state.
She is always striving to update her curriculum with the most current information and she is the webmaster for the conservation board's website. Shamblen suggests checking the site, www.plymouthcountyparks.com, which is regularly updated with new information.
While she does indeed have a diverse job description, her passion is restoring habitats to the way they originally were. Recently she was aided by the help of 41 students and 3 teachers from Hinton Community Schools who spent a day clearing away brush from an area that she is trying to return to a savanna, which is characterized by large trees towering over natural grasslands.
Even if organized educational programs fail to ignite interest amongst some, Shamblen, who grew up near the Loess Hills by Council Bluffs and graduated from Iowa State University, hopes people will take advantage of the conserved areas that Plymouth County owns.
"We have a lot of acres in Loess Hills and we have lots of native and unspoiled prairie and It's just like looking at history," she said. "I just hope people in the area will realize the resources that they have."