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Panhandle Afield: Outdoor education also altered

GERING — Amanda Filipi, who leads western Nebraska’s outdoor education efforts for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission from the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, is usually busy this time of year.

Filipi is usually hosting a surge of field trips, leading children on hikes and presenting classroom programs. Similar to other educators she is sad to be sidelined from her normal routine.

“This is usually my favorite time of year. We have roughly 2,000 students that come through in the April and May timeframe,” Filipi said. “It’s a little different this year.”

As with countless other public facilities and events, the Wildcat Hills Nature Center and its programs have been temporarily shut down. Among the cancellations is the Game and Parks’ biggest annual event for schoolchildren — the two-day Outdoor Discovery Program that had been scheduled for the end of April. That event usually introduces 500-600 children to some of 30 various activities ranging from shooting sports to outdoor cooking. They especially seem to enjoy up-close encounters with Nebraska’s fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Amanda Filipi leads an educational program about bats in 2016. (NGPC/Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

While the disruption of this year’s learning activities is certainly unfortunate, Filipi said not all is lost. Similar to many professionals, outdoor educators are adapting to the times. Filipi said one school has contacted her to do an outdoor learning activity with her popular snakes and other animals with the online meeting platform, Zoom, and she is welcoming others to do the same.

“There are a lot of resources out there for folks that are maybe stuck at home and looking for something fun to do with their kids or grandkids,” she said.

Filipi recommends a visit outdoornebraska.org/onlineeducation to see the new learning content that has been added during this crisis. While visiting the Game and Parks website, this is also a good time for kids to look into taking online hunter education if they have not completed the class already and are at the age to do so.

And, as of now, the trails at the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and many other public lands in the Panhandle are still open. Just be sure to follow guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and local health organizations while enjoying them.

Whether you are keeping a safe distance from people from the comfort of your living rooms, or by exploring western Nebraska’s wide open spaces, I hope you won’t let the coronavirus keep you from learning about the outdoors.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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