If you want to learn about nature's wonders from Bob Chance, bring your hiking boots.

Chance is likely to take you on a hike down a muddy trail or give you a ride in a canoe rather than have you show up for class in a school room.

"I never know what any given day will be like," the 45-year-old Darlington resident says. "It's challenging. It's not like being in a four-walled classroom."

After 23 years of teaching high school students earth and environmental sciences, Chance has left the traditional classroom to teach county residents of all ages about the beauty to be found in nature and the pressures placed on that beauty by humans.

Chance's classrooms are now the marshes of the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center, the trails in Otter Point Creek's wildlife conservancy, and even the waste incinerator, landfills and recycling centers in the county.

Chance works as an instructor at HarfordGlen near Bel Air and as site manager at the Otter Point Creek's National Estuarine Research Reserve in Edgewood. He took the job in March 1990.

On just about any day, Chance can be found leading groups on hiking and canoe trips through the county. Last week, he traipsed through the mud and muck of the trails at Melvin G. Bosely Wildlife Conservancy at Otter Point Creek with 25 Joppatowne High School students.

On the trip, the students saw the beauty and damage in the environment which no classroom could offer.

Along the path, Chance pointed out to the teens wildflowers and a crab spider dangling from a tree, a turtle nest, an abandoned ant mound, and even fox dung.

Further down the trail, Chance stopped the teens -- students in the high school's environmental science program -- at a sewage pump for the county treatment plant.

Chance quizzed the students on better waysto dispose of the sewage. One of the students suggested recycling the waste.

Chance agreed: "We ought to put sewage on the farmland asa natural fertilizer rather than put it in the Chesapeake Bay."

William E. Hunter, supervisor of science programs for Harford schools,says Chance's programs offer an expanded opportunity for students incounty schools.

Hunter, who has known Chance for more than 20 years, says Chance's relaxed teaching style helps him interest students so they get the message of environmental conservation.

"The classroom that most matches Bob's style is the outdoors," Hunter says. "He's a Pied Piper when it comes to kids and the environment . . . He lives what he teaches."

Born and raised in Baltimore County, Chance moved to Harford in 1968 to teach at Bel Air and later C. Milton Wright high schools. He helped establish the environmental science curriculum in county public schools.

He served a stint as a Bel Air commissioner in the late 1970s and in 1972 established the Susquehannock Environmental Center, one of the oldest recycling centers in the country.

While Chance's duties at Harford Glen and Otter Point Creek require him to work with people of all ages from around the state, he says youths are still his favorite pupils.

He estimates that annually, about 12,000 of the 31,000 students in the county school system come to Harford Glen. Chance also offers educational programs aimed atthe county's 2,000 teachers.

Chance says he likes teaching young people the importance of protecting the environment because he believes it gives him an opportunity to put his mark on the future.

During his programs, Chance encourages students to recycle and tries to instill respect for the environment.

"I always try to teach them tobe wildlife ambassadors," he says. "That's what has kept me young atheart."

Before you can be a wildlife ambassador, of course, Chance wants students to have met wildlife up close.

For example, before going on the hike with the Joppatowne students, Chance showed the youths stuffed red-wing blackbirds, bluebirds and northern orioles as examples of some birds they might see along the Otter Point trail.

And then came the live snakes.

Some students took a step away from the creatures, but most clustered around Chance as he took the small snakes out of a carrier in the back of his pickup.

First, he showed students a milk snake, which looks like a copperhead. Then came ared rat snake and an albino rat snake.

The snakes, none of them poisonous, wrapped around the hands and arms of the students as they passed them around. As Chance described each snake, he passed on a credo for the ambassadors to live by. "Snakes should not be killed," Chance says. "Every one thinks they're slimy. They get such a bad rap. But you're the best ammunition we've got in changing people's attitudes."

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