Over the last few years, studies in science indicate that spending time in nature comes with many benefits, including physical health and mental wellness. When it comes to kids, the benefits can also help develop a sense of connection — not only to the plants and animals around them, but to themselves, each other, and their families. For kids living in and visiting the Florida Keys, there are plenty of year-round reasons to get outside, and with all that’s offered in the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges and their upcoming annual Outdoor Fest set for Saturday, March 11th through Saturday, March 18th, there’s no better time to tell them to put down the gadgets and head for the great outdoors.
“Nature can bring out the explorer in any kid,” says Crocodile Lake Refuge Ranger Jeremy Dixon, who has three children aged 4, 7, and 10. “Any bug, tree snail, strange leaf, or even designs on tree bark opens up a wonderful world of discovery.”
The week-long outdoor extravaganza, presented by US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Complex and their Friends group FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges), offers an up-close take on the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges– National Key Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron, and Key West National Wildlife Refuges. Packed with mostly-free, kid-friendly activities, the Fest includes expert-guided birding, nature walks, and backcountry boat trips; evening wildlife programs; nature sketching, nature photography workshops and a photo contest; kayak excursions, a natural history bike ride, and the 3nd Annual Run/Walk with Deer 5K on Big Pine Key; and two family-fun wildlife fairs geared just for them.
While just about any of the events in the Outdoor Fest are great for all ages, there are some special events created just for kids that will help them learn about their backyard ecosystems while having fun. Kids 4-12 and their caregivers will enjoy a two-hour scavenger hunt for iconic Key Largo wildlife on Monday, March 13 from 2pm-4pm, and a hands-on activity to learn about ecosystems and “The Food Web” on Tuesday March 14 from 2pm- 4pm, both starting at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Headquarters. On Thursday, March 16 from 10am-11:30am, kids and their families can discover the Japanese art of Wildlife Origami, making cranes and other wildlife, and later that same day from 1pm-2:30pm, participate in a Kids’ Photography Workshop.
The two free wildlife fairs— and the Fest itself— offer a roster of activities that foster an appreciation of the outdoors and the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges. The Crocodile Lake Wildlife Fair in Key Largo—Saturday, March 11 at 10750 County Road 905, from 9am-2pm—features environmental exhibitions, art vendors, native plant and a children’s bicycle helmet giveaway, a silent auction, food, and music by violinist Craig Sowby. Kids will enjoy special activities including birdhouse building and Woodrat nest exploring, face painting, and other nature-inspired art projects; The Wildlife Fair in Big Pine Key the following week—Saturday, March 18th (just after the 8am Saturday “Run with Deer” 5K that trails through the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge) from 9am-2pm— is at Big Pine Community Park on Sands Rd. and Atlantis Dr. and features exhibitors from local non-profit and environmental organizations, local artists, music, lots of kids’ activities including big bubbles, face-painting, t-shirt making, a giant memory game, and more.
Says Dixon, “This is a great opportunity to get your kids outside and gain an appreciation for butterflies, crocodiles and the Key Largo woodrat. Have your kids build a bird house, crawl through a kid’s size woodrat nest, make some wildlife art out of reused bottles, and learn about our important environments here in the Florida Keys.”
To learn more about the refuges and the wildlife-friendly ways we can explore them, register for the upcoming Outdoor Fest at www.favorfloridakeys.org/outdoor-fest or contact Kristie Killam at 305.304.9625 or email Nancy or Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brought to you in part by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.