Soldiers and Families looking for outdoor adventures don’t have to travel far from home because the installation itself is home to an expansive wilderness filled with wildlife and rich history.
The Fort Campbell Conservation Branch, Directorate of Public Works strives every day to maintain those resources, and the community got a firsthand look Oct. 2 during the inaugural Public Lands Day at Lake Kyle.
“We want people to learn what’s in their backyard when it comes to natural and cultural resources,” said Rehanon Pampell, natural resources specialist, Conservation Branch, DPW. “They can see what Fort Campbell is trying to protect and manage here and discover recreational opportunities like where they can hunt and boat.”
From bug catching and tree identification to scavenger hunts and birdwatching, the event’s booths covered the ins and outs of DPW’s conservation efforts.
“We’re really big into outreach, especially when it comes to wildlife,” said Gene Zirkle, wildlife biologist, Conservation Branch, DPW. “Teaching young kids and getting them excited about science is important, and this is a good hook right now for the young kids that are here.”
Zirkle specializes in working with endangered bat species, while his coworker Daniel Moss, an avian ecologist contractor, focuses on protecting the installation’s at-risk birds. Their display on finding and conserving each species proved popular among children.
“My favorite part was probably the bat locator,” said Diego Espinoza, age 11. “We got to go around and learn what it would be like to look for a bat, and that was a lot of fun.”
Attendees also learned about plant life through DPW’s Forestry Branch, matching leaves to small “tree cookies” cut from the installation’s native species and discovering their different colorations.
“It’s really rewarding to be able to share this with people of all ages,” said Denton Giovenco, forestry technician, Conservation Branch, DPW. “Not only are the kids really interested, but the parents as well. They want to be able to maintain some of this knowledge so they can go on out and show the kids while they’re doing their nature walks and activities as a Family.”
Army spouse April Jameson and her children frequently spend time together outdoors, and she said the event helped them discover new activities they can try together.
“I hope the kids get a general perspective on a variety of things from being here,” Jameson said. “We do Cub Scouts so we’re pretty outdoorsy already, and they have a great concept of ‘leave no trace behind.’ So it’s really neat to just see the different things they can do when we go hiking like toolmaking, or learn about how to prevent forest fires.”
Jameson’s children attended as part of Clarksville’s Cub Scout Pack 565, and the event drew in Fort Campbell’s own Cub Scout Pack 534 as well.
“When I was looking at all the information they were offering, I thought it would be a really good experience for the scouts,” said Yasmina Aragon, den leader, Cub Scout Pack 534.
“It was really cool to see all the different services that are here on Fort Campbell. We didn’t know there were archaeologists, and we didn’t know there were certain birds here at risk of becoming endangered, so it’s been very enlightening for all of us.”
Each member of the pack found something they enjoyed learning about, and for Robert Frain, age 10, that was flint knapping: An ancient technique hunter-gatherers used to shape stones into arrowheads, knives and more. Michael Miller, cultural resources specialist contractor, Conservation Branch, DPW, performed live demonstrations throughout the event.
“I liked seeing the different kinds of rocks and watching them being made into tools,” Frain said. “It’s been an exciting day.”
Although the installation’s employees are experts in many fields, the Conservation Branch also brought in community partners to share their own knowledge and promote nearby recreational opportunities.
“Having our partners show up and participate is really great,” Pampell said. “They already help us monitor the environment and provide expertise on things we’re lacking in knowledge about, and for them to come out and showcase that knowledge to our community has been heartwarming.”
Those partners range from state agencies like the Kentucky Department of Forestry to federally managed parks like the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, where Families can put some of what they learned during Public Lands Day into practice.
“We’re basically showcasing everything Land Between the Lakes has to offer,” said Aly Mallory, volunteer coordinator, Land Between the Lakes. “A lot of people know that it’s a big piece of land, but they don’t really know what’s out there. We’ve got campgrounds, hiking trails, biking trails and tons of opportunities for fishing, swimming and kayaking.”
The installation hopes to develop Public Lands Day into an annual event to keep Soldiers and Families engaged in those types of activities, said Nichole Sorensen-Mutchie, an archaeologist with the Cultural Resources Program, DPW.
“I couldn’t be happier with the number of participants and Families that were here,” Sorensen-Mutchie said. “And I’m so happy the kids and Families gained something from the experience. A lot of people were saying they’ve never been out here, so I’m glad we can create an opportunity for them to see this area and the nature that’s out here. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but once you arrive it’s worth it.”