(Ed’s Note) Mara Van Meer is a first year NHE employee in the Ecosystem Management Program at Fleming. Part of her 16-week contract was supported by the Friends of Presqu’ile through a Service Canada grant.
Working at Presqu’ile Provincial Park
Mara as Monarch at Campfire program
Hello, my name is Mara and this past summer I have been fortunate to work at Presqu’ile as part of the Natural Heritage Education (NHE) staff. The goal of NHE is to connect our visitors with the natural environment and cultural history through the use of educational programs such as guided hikes, Ask the Naturalist, and children’s programs. We also run two centres open every day, the Nature Centre and the Lighthouse Interpretive Centre.
This position is the most fulfilling job I have ever had. The hours can be long and I find myself exhausted at the end of the day, but I always leave my house excited to learn and ready to teach others. The children that come into the centres make it all worth it. Their general awe is something that always brings a smile to my face. I distinctly remember one young lady meeting our turtle, Ben Kerrtle, in the Nature Centre. After removing Ben from his large tank, I bent down so that he was level with her. She stretched out her hand, ever so gently to pet his carapace, quietly repeating “hi” under her breath. It really was spectacular to watch this small child, who could barely walk, be so gentle and nurturing to our tiny turtle. I also remember a child asking me to explain what type of fossil he had found. After explaining that the cheerio-shaped objects are called Crinoids, I asked him if he could repeat the name of his fossil. He shouted “Cheerio!” and gave me a big toothy grin. I probably laughed harder than I should have.
The bigger kids, our adult campers, are continually in awe as well. I have seen three grown men audibly gasp as I flipped over a muskrat and beaver skull, who have a similar arrangement of teeth. I have seen a group of campers close to tears after we released a monarch butterfly from our display, about three hours after it came out of its chrysalis.
The Lighthouse Centre continually connects our guests with the history of the park. Children love to dress up in our historical costumes found in the treasure chest, and often make their parents participate as well. This often leads to laughter and interesting conversations about the war of 1812. I enjoy telling people about Pirate Bill Johnson, who lived at Presqu’ile and harassed British ships during this time. No, he did not have a peg leg. He didn’t even have an eye patch.
Mara the Tooth Fairy
The best part of participating in programs is being recognized later. I am Captain Charles Selleck (a carpenter and ship captain who resided at Presqu’ile in the 1800’s) in a program called “Shipwrecks and Pirates”, and the Presqu’ile Tooth Fairy, at a program where we look at skulls. I often get stared down in centres by families who attended these programs, and I always find it funny when people ask me if I am related to Selleck (which I am not). I also participate in a snake program that runs every other Monday evening. During this program the audience names the garter snake, which we keep in the Nature Centre. During one program the snake was named “Gary”, and the next day a small child drew a picture of Gary and placed it in the comment box in the Nature Centre. I proceeded to show this drawing to all my friends and family.
Though it is my job to tell people interesting things about Nature, the public teaches me new information every day. So many people come into the centres and to programs, speaking different languages from diverse cultures and backgrounds. I especially love conversations with “birders” who tell me of their adventures tracking and taking pictures of rare migrating birds. I know more than I should about Blue Jays thanks to an elaborate conversation with a gentleman one afternoon.
Mara with Friend Angeline
This job has provided so many amazing experiences and learning opportunities. August 19th was Species at Risk Day in Presqu’ile, and we hadSciensational Sssnakes from Guelph come in the evening to show the campers some beautiful snakes and turtles living in Ontario. I was lucky enough to hold and show some extremely beautiful animals that day, my favourite being an Eastern Hog-nosed Snake named Angeline. This species is currently listed as Threatened in Ontario as a result of habitat loss due to housing and agriculture. These snakes are known for their theatrical response to threats, in which they play dead (they even hang their tongue out!). I have always loved these snakes, and I didn’t know I would be lucky enough to see one, much less hold one for a prolonged period of time. Angeline was spectacular, and provided me with an experience I will never forget.
People want to be connected to nature, but sometimes they just need a small spark to light the fire. This summer has been an absolute whirlwind, but I am so grateful for the learning experience and the interesting people I have met. I am also grateful to The Friends of Presqu’ile, who consistently work to make Presqu’ile a better place. They support numerous NHE contracts, employing me for my first seven weeks at Presqu’ile. Without them, many summer students wouldn’t have the same opportunities, and the campers wouldn’t have the same experiences. I definitely hope to work at Presqu’ile again.