Mucking About at the Mountaintop Arboretum’s Family Outdoor Awareness Workshop

With the weather being so wonderful this summer, I was inspired to visit the Mountaintop Arboretum in Tannersville, near Hunter Mountain NY, to check out their Family Outdoor Awareness programs, held every Friday in July, and every Saturday in August.

My son and I attended the 7/15 “Exploring the Water” session, and had a great time! The program is designed for families with kids ages 5-10, but my 12 year old and I both enjoyed the whole process, and he wasn’t bored at all – despite some reservations at the beginning when he declared “this looks like it’s for MUCH younger kids than me.” Once we got the nets out and started rooting around in the beautiful arboretum pond for tiny critters, all age-based concerns were quickly forgotten.

Garrick finds some pond life

Science teacher Kelly Czermerys leads the program, we really liked her energy and enthusiasm for the subject. She showed us how to find elusive little critters, and how to use the field guide to identify some of the more obscure-looking beasties that our group found.

Science teacher extraordinaire Kelly Czermerys pointing out a tadpole.

Bonus fun was had when we returned to home base and learned how to use chemical tests to measure oxygen saturation, pH, and hardness, and what the numbers meant as far as gauging the relative health of the pond. Any time you get to put on safety goggles and gloves to mix powders and liquids is automatically cool and interesting!

Mixing the agents to perform oxygen saturation test

What fascinated both me and my son was how a dull looking blob of mud and muck from the pond floor held so much more than we realized once we took a closer look. With Kelly’s help, we learned how to look closely and find some of the many teeny insects, nematodes, tadpoles and other water fauna.

My son caught some good specimens; a tiny frog, a tadpole, a water skipper bug, and even a dragonfly.

The dragonfly didn't want to leave, we worried he might have gotten a concussion during netting!

Another kid in the group found a water scorpion, which sounds way scarier than it really is – it kind of looks like a walking stick bug, but hangs out in the water.

The water scorpion, waiting to catch some prey.

We all found snails. LOTS of snails this year, which Kelly hypothesized was due to the late, wet spring. There’s a bumper crop out there now for all snail-loving predators, that’s for sure.

An all-you-can eat buffet for the snail lovers in the pond.

The arboretum itself is gorgeous, and I’m looking forward to returning with our whole family to explore the rest of the site, and to check out some of their other events this summer.

Native and non-native plantings in the West Meadow by the pond.

More info on the Family Outdoor Awareness Program from the Mountaintop Arboretum’s website:

Programs will be held rain or shine. Family Outdoor Awareness programs are aimed at children 5 to 10 years of age, accompanied by adult family members. There is a $5 materials charge per session for each family. Pre-registration is encouraged. Go to or call 518-589-3903 to register.

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