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"Nature Kid" Finds Niche at Teatown in Ossining

OSSINING, N.Y. -- As a child, Teatown Lake Reservation educator Beth Rhines used to follow her cat in the woods behind her house and played teacher using her younger brother as her student.

"I was a nature kid. I knew I loved nature and I wanted to teach," the 32-year-old native of Portland, CT, said.

Rhines found a job as an environmental educator at Teatown Lake Reservation, a nature preserve based in Ossining with 15 miles of unpaved scenic trails and many educational activities. She began working there in 2006 after graduating from Antioch University in Keane, NH, with a master’s degree in environmental education. She's now director of Teatown's summer camp in addition to being an educator.

"It feels good doing what I've always wanted to do," Rhines said. "And it's never boring here, which is why I like it."

On a cool day in spring, Rhines led about 30 campers participating in a spring break vacation mini-camp to see some vernal pools in Hidden Valley. Vernal pools are small pools in the woods that dry up in late summer, but fill back up in spring. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders live in the pools, but there are no fish, Rhines explained.

"We heard the frogs calling. It gets really loud there. It's like a big party. They're making a lot of noise croaking," Rhines said.

Rhines enjoys teaching kids about how to handle and care for animals, including snakes, turtles, frogs, rabbits and ferrets. She also teaches lessons on how to make maple sugar from maple tree sap and how to test stream water to see if it's healthy.

"If you're excited, they'll get excited," Rhines said. "You can even get them excited about rocks if you teach in a hands-on way and apply the rocks to their everyday life."

Rhines also trains volunteers to do various tasks, including taking care of animals, maintaining trails and leading school groups. Her teen volunteer group cleans out the ferret cage and feeds the nature center's turtles, while other volunteers help out with events like the Teatown Plant Sale that takes place in May.

"We have about 8000 students who come here every year. We wouldn't be able to do it without volunteers," Rhines said. "There are so many different opportunities to volunteer here that I could pretty much find stuff for anybody to do."

Rhines said she feels lucky that her mother used to send her off into the woods to play, especially since children these days don't often get the opportunities to play outside like she used to.

"As long as I'm connecting people with nature, that's what I want to do," she said. "It's about taking hikes and being comfortable outdoors."

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