Harford County high school students got the opportunity to play in the dirt, walk through the woods and look at animals at the 4-H camp at the Rocks Thursday morning.
Far from a day away from school work, the kids were there as part of the annual Envirothon competition.
Most of Harford County's public high schools participated this year, as did Harford Christian School.
The students traipsed through the mud and weeds all day — mostly under sunny skies, testing their skills in various environmental subjects.
Harford Christian was declared the first place winner, with 558 points out of 600, for the sixth year in a row.
They were first place winners in the categories of soils, wildlife and aquatics.
Havre de Grace High School came in second place, with 529 points. They also won the forestry category and the oral presentation portion of the fifth topic.
North Harford was third place, with 514 points, and came in first for the written portion of the fifth topic.
The competition is made up of five stations devoted to certain topics: aquatics, wildlife, forestry, soils and, for this year, stormwater management through low impact development.
Groups of four or five students rotated among stations and completed tests on each topic.
At the aquatics and wildlife sections under the pavilion at the camp, students looked at specimens — fish in jars, an animal pelt, etc. — and had to identify certain aspects, such as the age and sex of animals.
For forestry, the students had to conduct different measurements — total height, merchantable height and diameter — on trees, as well as identify them.
Havre de Grace High School environmental science teacher Steve Hillyer has been coaching since the Envirothon's first year, during the 1991-92 school year.
Back then, however, Hillyer was advising the team at Joppatowne. This is his fourth year with Havre de Grace's team.
Hillyer explained that the fifth topic is always something new and usually appropriate for the time.
As Laura O'Leary, North Harford's coach, explained, the subjects are "completely interrelated."
"One will teach you about the other one," she said. O'Leary, also an environmental science teacher, called coaching her team "the most wonderful thing I do."
Hillyer said he appreciates that the competition gives hands-on experience to the students, many of whom go onto majoring in environmental science and/or seek a career in the field.
He commented that his team meets two or three days a week after school for about two hours, starting in October or November up until competition week.
O'Leary tends to see "the extremely involved, smart kids" as the ones who join the group.