Super souvenirs from the great outdoors - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Super souvenirs from the great outdoors

Collect conservatively: A handful of beautiful specimens displayed on your child's desk will be much more meaningful than a bucketful down in your basement. © iStockphoto.com/Elena Elisseeva Collect conservatively: A handful of beautiful specimens displayed on your child's desk will be much more meaningful than a bucketful down in your basement. © iStockphoto.com/Elena Elisseeva

From the craggy Maine coast to the California redwoods, summer vacations often take us to utterly amazing places in nature. And it's a given that kids want to take a piece of these destinations home with them. The problem? Snatching stuff straight from the wilds isn't always practical (ever smell a horseshoe crab shell after a few days in a suitcase?) or even permissible by law in some areas, especially state and national parklands.
 
"It may seem silly that you aren't supposed to pick a flower or take a rock. But each little thing plays a role in its natural environment -- it can be food or shelter to other organisms," explains Beth Dillingham, superintendent of the Rio Grande State Park in Santa Fe, NM.

Never fear, however: There are many ways you and your kids can bring back souvenirs from the wild without disrupting too much. Here, some ideas from nature educators that not only cost less than the overpriced souvenirs at touristy gift shops but provide personalized mementos your child will cherish for years to come.
 
Collect Birds

Just about any place you travel to will be home to an array of birds you won't see back home. Before taking off, pick up a good field guide that focuses on the area you'll be visiting and encourage the kids to become familiar with how it works. (Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology has an online store that sells a wide range of child-friendly guides.) Also pack a notebook and arm the kids with inexpensive cameras.
 
"Wherever they go, it will be relatively easy for them to spot birds and take a picture," says Jennifer Fee, project leader for BirdSleuths, a middle school educational program affiliated with Cornell. "They can record in their notebook when they saw the bird, the environment it was in, as well as what it looked like, interesting behaviors it exhibited and what its song was like."
 
Your birdsleuthers can spend downtime in the car or on the plane scouring the guides to see if they can identify their finds. When you arrive home, put together a photo album or bird scrap book and be sure to enter your birdsleuthing info into Cornell's birding online database at eBird.
 
Create a Natural Flower Gallery

Since wildflowers, trees and plants aren't moving targets, they are ideal subjects for sketching and drawing. And chilling out with a pad and pencil provides a welcome pause in any travel day. "It also helps kids become better nature detectives. They see that each type of flower has its own petal arrangement. It teaches them to see the difference in plants so they are not one big green blur," says Josie Crawford, education program director at the California Native Plant Society in Sacramento.
 
Pick up a Peterson's Field Guide for the area you'll be visiting and bring it along with you. Give the kids a bound journal or a sturdy pad and a pencil and have them sketch what they see and record details about the plants they've drawn along the way. "When the kids get home, they can make a larger drawing or painting of some of the flowers or plants they've sketched. Their field guide can help them fill in details they might have missed," says Crawford.
 
Save Stuff From the Surf

Hard-core preservations might say it's verboten. But most shoreline experts believe collecting shells, rocks and other beachy treasures is OK ... as long as you do it in moderation and play by the rules. First, check with the local visitors center or ranger station to see what local restrictions are. Some wildlife refuges prohibit shelling of any kind. If you do end up shelling, don't take any shell that is still inhabited. "Since it's sometimes hard to tell if something is alive or dead, it's best not to take any shell that has anything inside of it," says Jeff Dement, spokesperson for the American Littoral Society, based in Sandy Hook, NJ. And collect conservatively: A handful of beautiful specimens displayed on your child's desk will be much more meaningful than a bucketful down in your basement. 

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