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13 September 2007

JSU Field Schools to Hold Nature Weekend

Participants enjoy an autumn day on the enchanted trails of DeSoto State Park. Photo: By Renee Morrison.

By Matt Kasper
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Hunting for snakes and tardigrades, also known as water bears, is the lure to hook people on driving to DeSoto State Park this weekend, according to Renee Morrison, JSU Field Schools director.

JSU Field Schools is sponsoring activities at the park near Fort Payne as part of a family weekend for people who want to learn more about nature.

“We’re giving (people) options instead of sitting indoors,” she said.

The tours on Friday and Saturday are free, though a hike through the canyon on Saturday will cost $5.

The first tour, titled “Can snakes crawl backwards? (and other creepy stuff!)” begins at 7 p.m. Friday.

Morrison said the timing of the tour is fitting because the seasonal slithering has started.

“This time of year the snakes are moving. It’s a great time to learn about venomous versus non-venomous snakes,” she said, explaining that the educational emphasis will include teaching people not to kill them unnecessarily.

Around 40 people have already signed up for the canyon hike which will include eight guides, she said, so the numbers will not be limited.

On Saturday a session will take place at 7 p.m. about microscopic animals that live in water called tardigrades, or water bears.

Frank Romano, head of the biology department at JSU, will guide the hike.

Romano said he plans on looking at samples with the group, who he hopes will share his enthusiasm for them as “really cute little critters.”

The name “water bears” derives from their aquatic habitat and hulking appearance in which they appear to have paws, said Romano.

Romano is one of the only people in the United States studying the creatures, he said.

“The fascinating bit for me is, how do you study the ecology of an animal you can’t see?”

The next family weekend at DeSoto State Park, scheduled on Oct. 26 and 27, will include ghost stories and hiking, said Morrison.

Partnering ecotourism with the park’s resources is crucial for promoting awareness and engendering success, she said.

To register call 782-5697 or email

About Matthew Kasper

Matthew Kasper covers Jacksonville, Piedmont, Ohatchee and Alexandria for the Star.

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