People, and mainly children, are spending a lot more time indoors in the past couple decades. Not only does this affect a child’s health, but it also has an impact on the adults they become.
The Pascagoula River Audubon Center offers so many programs to get people outdoors, and so much of it is thanks to Programs Manager Erin Parker.
“My responsibility here is over all of the education programs, all the school groups, the programs calendar, speakers and workshops,” Parker said. “Any classes we have, I help set those up. I do a lot of the teaching, a lot of teaching biodiversity of the area and getting people outdoors.”
While the Audubon Center began this year’s summer camps this week, the center offers programs all year long to give people of all ages a chance to get outdoors.
“We have programs for every age,” she explained. “One program we have during the school year is Toddler Tuesdays. It’s for children ages 2, 3, and 4, and it’s all about getting kids and parents comfortable with being outside. We have everything from that to tours for senior citizens. There is really something for everyone here. We do a lot of school programs, college students will come, and we have adult classes like learning how to identify birds.
“One program we have is Birds and Brews. It happens every third Thursday of the month and there is always a theme. It’s a great way to relax after work and enjoy a beer or wine. We have snacks, trivia, guided hikes, and it’s a great way to explore center without kids while getting to hang out outside of a bar.”
The PRAC’s summer camp is also a way to get kids outdoors in a fun way through arts and crafts and some hiking activities for older children.
Parker is a perfect fit for this position, as she has always had a passion for teaching and the outdoors.
“I’ve always been really outdoorsy,” she said. “Every day is different. When you set out on a hike or boat ride, you never know what you’re going to find. You find more and more things you don’t know about.
“This is my dream job. I get to work with people, especially people that have never been outdoors. It’s really fun and interesting, and your own backyard is way more fun than anything you’re going to see on a screen.”
Also, working at a center devoted to the Pascagoula River is a huge added benefit for Parker.
“It is so biodiverse down here, and everything changes seasonally, so always I’m always learning new things,” she said. “I love talking to people about how we help protect these wild, incredible places that we get to explore. It’s pretty neat to be here in Jackson County in our own center, teaching locals and people from out of state. I get to teach them about how great Mississippi and Jackson County is.”
With National Get Outdoors Day on June 10, Parker is passionate about getting to explore the natural habitats that surround them.
“Especially as adults, we are spending so much time on phones or computers and it is really important to have screen-free time,” she said. “Kids and parents don’t spend a lot of time outdoors, meaning we don’t get to use our senses to explore. Now we feel like the world has changed, and we can’t let kids out of our site, but this is such an amazing place to grow up because there’s so many different habitats and it is always changing.”
For anyone interested in the programs the center offers but aren’t too familiar with the outdoors, Parker offers one important piece of advice.
“Come on out and visit,” she said. “There is no better way to explore than with someone who is very comfortable outdoors. Having someone who is very comfortable being out there is the best way to introduce someone to nature. We will take people out kayaking for the first time, for example, and they almost always come back.”
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