FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 22, 2018) -- Fort Drum's Outdoor Adventure Day is all about respecting, protecting and enjoying everything the environment has to offer, and more than 850 community members got closer to nature Aug. 18 during the sixth annual event.

Hosted by the Fort Drum Natural Resources Branch and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, the day featured more than 35 different stations where attendees could participate in hands-on activities or view live demonstrations.

Ray Rainbolt, Fort Drum Fish and Wildlife Management program manager, said that people could easily spend the whole day with the diverse range of educational and entertaining attractions that was offered this year.

"Today is a chance to unplug from everything and get outside to see all the outdoor recreation and natural resource opportunities there are," he said. "Part of it is just reconnecting to nature, and that's why there's an agricultural station, a mining station and a forest product station - different things like that reminds ourselves that we use our natural resources all the time."

Children could sift through sand to uncover buried artifacts, or use tools to break up rocks in search of a Herkimer diamond. They could also practice archery and air rifle skills, courtesy of 4-H Shooting Sports instructors.

"It's a free, family-friendly event, and we tell people that no matter how large your family is, there is something for everyone to do," Rainbolt said.

He also referred to it as a tech-free zone where children had to actually take tools in hands to uncover minerals in the soil, and not mash their fingers on buttons to "Minecraft" a digital landscape.

"I think that's another thing that gets lost in time - that if it doesn't have a little button it, then you don't know how to do it," Rainbolt said. "Here's a chance to do some of those things."

Members of the Woodsmen's Team from the State University of New York - College of Environmental Science and Forestry, showed off their skills with chainsaws and axes while explaining how cutting timber became a competitive sport. "Stacking cookies" is a technique of cutting slices of wood on a vertical log. The objective is to cut as many as possible in a minute without tipping the stack. The team coach explained that an event like "stacking cookies" has no bearing in the logging industry, but for sport it is a matter of pride.

Attendees could also pick up other interesting tidbits of information throughout the day, such as how skunks can be trapped using marshmallows as bait, or that beaver teeth never stop growing. Some facts were not new to children who spend a lot of time outdoors with their families. Eugene Nichols, from the Fort Drum Natural Resources' Wetlands Program, said that he wasn't surprised by that.

"It would actually surprise me more if they didn't have that interest," he said. "At a very young age, that's when things become normalized. If they're growing up around dad whose hanging up deer and cutting it for meat, that's normal and it's not a gross event."

His colleague, Jason Murray, held the attention of an inquisitive group while he expertly removed the skin from a beaver. Nichols said that children generally have no qualms about feeling all the animal furs and poking fingers into a beaver's paw or tail, because they want to feel the different textures.

"Curiosity at that age is pretty natural and it's good to see," he said. "Even if it's their first time seeing these kinds of things, it's their curiosity that drives them."

Nearby, the sound of a bear trap was shockingly loud, as attendees readily volunteered to go inside the giant metal drum. They donned ear protection before the trap door snapped shut. Upon emerging from it, some appeared stunned while others enthusiastically asked to go back inside.

Mac Ramsey, a summer hire with the Invasive Species crew in the Natural Resources' branch was more than happy to oblige the repeat customers. Ramsey said that he had worked with a research team that caught 180 to 300 pound-plus bears using this trap, but the trap could easily fit a female black bear and three of her cubs.

"Typically, a single cub won't set it off alone, but you could fit a 500-pound bear in there," he said.

Boaz Goble, 8, went inside with his sisters. He said that it was fun, but he devoted a lot of his attention to the skinning and trapping station.

"I liked watching how they did that," he said.

Boaz said he didn't know that skinning the beaver can reveal whether it is male or female - the girls watching the demonstration cheered when it was discovered that the beaver was female, that is, until one exclaimed, "You killed a girl beaver?"

Boaz said that his favorite outdoor activity is playing soccer, but he liked seeing different activities he could do at Outdoor Adventure Day.

Matt Biondolillo, an Indian River Lakes Conservancy water quality specialist, used a 3-D model of a town to demonstrate how pollutants can travel into water supplies. He explained this by having children squeeze "pollutants" from a bottle onto farmland and industrial buildings, and then used spray bottles to mimic rainfall that carried the pollutants into lakes and rivers.

"It's a good learning exercise to get the kids involved and show them how we do have pollutants that come from our industries and homes," he said. "Everything we do has some level of impact, and we wanted them to have that awareness about our environment."

Biondolillo said that he grew up in the area, fishing at Remington Pond, but has lived in Syracuse for the past 20 years.

"This is actually my first Outdoor Adventure Day, and I'm so glad to be here and back in the North Country again," he said.