Learning the science of nature at Retzer Nature Center

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer

WAUKESHA - A damp, cold day didn't stop more than 200 nature enthusiasts from learning about science in nature at Retzer Nature Center's science fest, part of the Wisconsin Science Festival, on Nov. 4.

More than 50 communities across the state hosted activities during the 2017 event, making it the biggest event since it started seven years ago. 

Lexi Hartenstein, 7, of Germantown, puzzles over a stripped cone as Retzer Nature Center Park Naturalist Janet Barthel shows what the cone looked like before squirrels feasted on the delicacies during the first sceince fest on Nov. 4. The event featured activities related to science in nature.

“I think every kid starts out a little bit as a scientist. At some point, they all ask ‘how’ or ‘why’ questions about the world,” says Eric Wilcots, chair of the Wisconsin Science Festival steering committee. “Somewhere along the line, that curiosity can get lost. We've got to bring back that natural curiosity for people, and festivals are one way to get science to the public.”

At Retzer, which was hosting an event for the first time, attendees cycled through the "Science of Nature," learning about water cycles, life and migration cycles, season cycles and recycling. 

Meribeth Sullivan, from Waukesha County Recycles, led a group through the journey of a plastic bottle, sharing mind-boggling statistics about the use of plastic water bottles.

With more than 3 million plastic bottles used in the United State every hour, each person uses an average of 173 bottles annually. However, one 38 or those are recycled.  

Every time a plastic bottle is recycled natural resources are saved.

"Every time we do this we are saving oil, we’re not digging up more fossil fuels, we’re not releasing more carbon into the atmosphere," Sullivan said. "We are reusing what we already have extracted."

Benjamin Garcia, 4, of Pewaukee, looks at corn through a microscope during the first science rest at Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha on Nov. 4. The event featured science in nature themed activities.

The event included hands-on activities like papermaking and water tension games, and hikes learning about migration and water. Even with less than optimal weather, hikes through the nature center still attracted 30 people or more. 

"It hasn't stopped anyone from getting outside," said Jayne Jenks with the Waukesha County Parks and Land Use Department. "I love that."