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Water, Wings and Wild Things KIDS Festival

Published on Jan 24, 2020

Nearly 3,000 Polk County second graders descended upon Circle B Bar Reserve last week for the fifth annual Water, Wings and Wild Things KIDS Festival.

The festival is a youth environmental education event and collaborative effort of Polk County government agencies, local municipalities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations. Event organizers aim to educate local second grade student-citizens on the importance of our natural resources and nature-based recreation activities.

“We have around 40 plus educations vendors who come on site this day to provide hands-on activities,” said Tabitha Biehl, the Land and Water Natural Areas manager with Polk County’s Parks and Natural Resources Division. “They can come out and build and design their own binoculars they can take home with them. They can sift through owl pellets. They get to interact with a lot of live-animal ambassadors and learn more about those animals that are ambassadors for their species who live out here naturally. It’s just a great addition to our educational program.”

The annual kids festival has been around a number of years in various forms. It first began  as a public festival that centered around Earth Day before the Nature Discovery Center was ever built. But still, something was missing.

“As the years went on, we honed in on target audiences and what other educational activities we were able to offer, we realized the group we really needed to get outdoors more were the younger youth.”

At the time, the center’s educational programs focused on third through fifth grade students. There was nothing that targeted younger students. And so, the festival was retooled to cater specifically to second graders.

One of the festivals main attractions is the Florida Cow Camp, where students can find Grazer, the camp’s resident cattle driver whose character remains in 1800s wild Florida.

“A lot of things we do is demonstrating to the kids the lifestyle we live in 1876,” he said. “But the most famous thing we are known for is the Florida Cracker, as we are called. We used to be called cow hunters. But by the cracking of the drag, as it’s called, we are known as Florida Crackers now.”

Mike Brady, who was with the Imperial Polk Astronomical Society, is another regular exhibitor at the kids festival, often showing students night images he has captured, or looking through a sun filter on his telescope.

“Well, right now we are looking at the sun safely, which is one of our missions to encourage people to know more about astronomy and to do so safely,” Brady said.

One by one, the students patiently wait their turn in line to get a look at the sun’s surface through a specialized filter on the telescope. This filter, Brady explains, make it safe for our eyes to view directly.

Other exhibitors included representatives from Florida’s state parks, Polk County’s Mosquito control section, along with other visitors from various agencies who want to help the students understand more about the natural world around them.