As several 4-H students spilled out of the van in a small parking lot in Athens, they exclaimed: “This isn’t the zoo.”
As we entered Bear Hollow Wildlife Park and approached the exhibit where 16-year-old Lavendar Harris was feeding and brushing the deer and turkeys, several of the children were interested to see their fellow 4-H’er on the other side of the fence.
But a few teens still weren’t quite sold.
A few minutes later, Harris left the group to let the bobcat out of his night enclosure so she could clean it.
“Ewwww,” one teen said. “I wouldn’t do that!”
But before long, they were all under the enchantment of Bear Hollow.
Harris invited fellow 4-H’ers to the zoo during fall break to see where she volunteers each week as a junior intern supervisor. A few other 4-H’ers also volunteer on weekends and at special events.
She gave us the grand tour of bears, otters, eagles, owls and reptiles, including the subject of her 4-H demonstration, the blue tongued skink.
We also stepped behind the scenes to see what’s kept in the zoo’s freezers and refrigerator for all the park’s residents.
Jenny Kvapil, program specialist at Bear Hollow, put on an educational program for our group while Lavendar finished her other duties for the day.
We learned how the zoo gained most of its native animals after they were injured and how it gained other more exotic animals after they had been kept as pets, and why they can’t be re-released to the wild. We also visited with an owl, snake and hedgehog.
The zoo is free and only an hour’s drive from Covington. It is located at 293 Gran Ellen Drive in Athens, and adjoins trails, picnic areas and a playground.
No one wanted to leave, even after I admitted we were eating on campus at one of the University of Georgia’s cafeterias instead of dining from the zoo’s kitchens full of mice and other not-so-appetizing options.
We headed down the street and caught a bus for East Campus Village.
“My dad told me to be careful,” said one 4-H’er. (“Definitely,” I replied.)
“I want to go to Tech,” chimed in another. (“Great!”)
“Are we going to see all of campus?” asked yet another. (“Not hardly!”)
I attempted to address each concern and question as we navigated the bus system with 13 children, but as soon as we reached the dining hall every thought turned to food.
Hot wings, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, omelets, tater tots, smoothies, cereal, ice cream, soups, coffee, hot chocolate, soft drinks, waffles, green beans, salad, pretzel salad, oranges, apples, bananas… they all found their way to our tables, and not a drop was wasted.
On a 4-H trip in ninth grade, I ate Capt’n Crunch and ice cream every night for dinner and immediately declared I was going to UGA. I’m still convinced that the dining hall is the single best recruiting tool.
“I didn’t get any fries, and they even had curly fries!” lamented one 4-H’er.
Finally, convinced they couldn’t hold another bite, we slowly made our way up Ag Hill to Conner Hall, briefly pointing out our parent college, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, before heading over to the Science Library.
They were dragging a bit by the time we stepped down a side hall to the MakerSpace, but as soon as they realized what was in this room all eyes were wide open again.
This small space inside the UGA Science Library holds three 3D printers, a wood laser cutter, a vinyl cutter, and a table full of Arduinos, RasberryPi, LittleBits, Makey Makeys and more. (And no, the raspberry one isn’t anything to do with lunch.)
University students, faculty and staff can create projects with all the latest technology, and old projects were scattered across the room, eliciting oohs and aahs from the group.
Even the student still talking about Georgia Tech had to admit, the best part of this stop was the word free.
They went ahead and added the UGA MakerSpace as the first stop on our next UGA trip for spring.
I’m envisioning a new vinyl sticker for the 4-H bus, but I have a feeling they have much bigger plans in mind.
Terri Fullerton is a County Extension Agent in 4-H Youth with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.