There was no way the fifth-graders from Abingdon Elementary School were going to touch the crawfish they found at the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center.
Wearing black rubber boots up to their knees, Terrell Tyson and Lamanda Hinks, both 10, found the crawfish during a search of a stream at Harford Glen, at 502 W. Wheel Road off Route 24 in Bel Air.
It's one thing, the girls explained, to scoop up a crawfish using a long-handled net and pop it in a collection bucket and quite another to touch it with bare hands.
Dennis L. Kirkwood, teacher in charge of environmental hTC education at Harford Glen, picked up the crawfish and held it firmly while allowing it to grasp one of his fingers with its tiny front pinchers.
"Press your lips together as hard as you can and that's how much it will hurt," he reassured the giggly girls. But only Matthew Pietrowski, 10, agreed to touch the crawfish.
"Oh you're right, that doesn't hurt at all," Matthew said, allowing the crawfish to nip one of his fingers. Matthew, who had found two crawfish and one dead frog, reached out and pinched Terrell on her cheek. "That hurts a lot more," he said.
And now everyone wanted to get tweaked by the crawfish.
Mr. Kirkwood said fifth-graders, who spend a week at the camp staying overnight, are anxious to explore and learn about the environment. The students participate in bird banding or nature walks, while also learning standard camp activities, including campfire songs, he said.
"We are not trying to produce tree huggers, but citizens who will grow up to appreciate what the environment means to their quality of life," he said.
The 25 fifth-graders standing in Plumtree Run, for example, were learning how to gauge the health of a stream by studying the variety of aquatic life found, Mr. Kirkwood said.
Harford Glen, which includes 340 acres with a large marsh, a reservoir and a wide variety of wild life and plant life, is the focal point of the school system's environmental education program.
"We could not ask for a better site for environmental education. We have open water, streams, a marsh, forest and fields, just about everything you could imagine which means most environmental studies can be easily demonstrated and observed here," Mr. Kirkwood said.
The school system took over Harford Glen in 1948 when the site was declared surplus property by the federal government.
In the 1950s, it was mostly used by students studying farming. Cattle grazed at the site and students planted trees, according to Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman.
A formal environmental education program has been in place since 1989 when a full-time staff, including Mr. Kirkwood, was assigned to the site. Harford Glen is open eight weeks during the school year. The rest of the school year it's too cold, Mr. Kirkwood said.
Last year, 600 fifth-graders attended a weeklong overnight camp, about 20 percent of the fifth-graders in the county. And each of those weeks 12 to 15 high school students also attended, acting as counselors, helping teachers and other staff with the fifth-graders, Mr. Kirkwood said.
A recently released master plan for Harford Glen would expand the facility to 20 weeks during the school year. The $3 million, five-phase plan calls for the winterization of some buildings, such as the old dairy barn that is used as a dining hall, and some construction such as modern dorms, Mr. Kirkwood said.
The county agreed to fund about $500,000 this year toward the master plan.