Inks Lake State Park gives kids a look just below the surface with Underwater Discovery
DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
HOOVER’S VALLEY — When kids arrive every Thursday through the rest of September for Inks Lake State Park’s Underwater Discovery program, the first thing Sean Jones asks them to do is look around and see if they notice any animals.
“When they first look out there, they’ll say, ‘nothing’ or, ‘it’s dead,'” said Jones, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department park interpreter. “But then, we’ll ask them to use their other senses like their ears. All of a sudden, they can hear the birds nearby. Or they’ll hear something out on the water.”[box]IF YOU GO
WHAT: Underwater Discovery
WHEN: 10 a.m. Thursdays
WHERE: Inks Lake State Park, 3630 Park Road 4 West
COST: Free with park entrance fee
FOR MORE: Call (512) 793-2223 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/inks-lake[/box]
Philip Wyde, a member of the Highland Lakes Master Naturalists, pointed out that for kids who are coming to the park for the first time, they often don’t know what to look for or how to look for animals, fish or other creatures. One of the important functions of the park’s Underwater Discovery program is to introduce youth to nature and how to experience it.
The park holds the program 10 a.m. Thursdays behind the store. People need to check in at the main gate, pay the park entrance fee and head to the park store. The Underwater Discovery program is free.
“We give double-your-money-back guarantee,” Wyde said with a grin. “Nobody’s taken it.”
Fun takes center stage during the 40-minute program. The key to getting kids excited and interested in nature and science is by keeping it less academic, Wyde pointed out.
When the youth arrive, Jones and Wyde give them a brief introduction about Underwater Discovery, but then, the shoes come off. Wyde and Jones take a minnow seine (a type of net used to catch minnows) and wade up waist deep into Inks Lake. Then they slowly make their way back to shore capturing underwater species as they go.
“For most of the kids, they’ve never seen a seine before and have no idea how it works,” Jones said.
Once on shore, the two reveal their “catch.” It often includes minnow species, some small sunfish and even an occasional Guadalupe bass fingerling.
“We’ll put them in a bucket, and the kids really think it’s great,” Wyde said. From the bucket, the staff transfers the fish to a waiting fish tank to give the youth a good look at the various species.
From there, Jones, Wyde or a volunteer goes over basic fish anatomy with the kids. Along the way, the staff or volunteers pass on an appreciation for the lake, the ecosystem and the natural world.
“The main thing is we’d like them to have respect for nature and certainly understand the importance of conservation,” Wyde said. “The kids are going to be the stewards as they get older. And if they have a respect for nature, everything else really starts from there as far as the outdoors goes.”
With school back in session, turnout isn’t as strong as during the summer months. Jones hopes homeschool groups and others will take advantage of the program throughout the rest of September.
“It’s rather informal, but it’s a lot of fun, and the kids learn a great deal from it,” he said.
Kids don’t just stand around and listen as somebody else does all the seining and talking. After the basic lesson is over, Wyde and Jones hand the net off to the kids.
“You want to see something great, just watch the kids as they catch something in the seine,” Wyde said. “They just love it.”
Inks Lake State Park holds several programs throughout the week and month. Along the lines of Underwater Discovery, Jones organizes Fishing with a Ranger at 6-7 p.m. Fridays through the fall (though he might schedule earlier hours as the sun begins setting sooner).
The park even has a tackle loaner program for kids and families who want to give fishing a try but don’t have the necessary equipment.
Call the park at (512) 793-2223 or go to www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/inks-lake for more information or an up-to-date list of upcoming activities.
The park is located at 3630 Park Road 4 West. Daily park entrance fees are $6 for ages 13 and older, $3 for Texas residents 65 and older and free for ages 12 and younger.