County family uses UWIS backpack program to connect to nature

Jacob, Joshua and Terra Thompson (from left) participate in the Family Exploration Backpack Program offered through the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center of Salamonie Reservoir, which provides monthly-themed activities that focus on nature and wildlife.
Jacob, Joshua and Terra Thompson (from left) participate in the Family Exploration Backpack Program offered through the Upper Wabash Interpretive Center of Salamonie Reservoir, which provides monthly-themed activities that focus on nature and wildlife. Photo by Jessica Williams.

A Huntington County woman and her two sons keep in touch with the nature inside each of them.

They do this by participating in the Upper Wabash Interpretive Services' Family Exploration Backpack Program.

The program is still quite young, with only two and a half years under its belt. Teresa Rody, interpretive naturalist for the UWIS, co-created the program, which provides an in-depth study of nature by themed months, she says, such as wildlife, ants, camping and the reservoir.

She says some families come out to Salamonie when they get the chance, but there is one family that is regular.
That's where the Thompsons come in.

Terra Thompson has had her sons, Jacob, 9, and Joshua, 6, involved in programs of the UWIS since they were little.

The backpack program was designed for children after they have completed pre-school activities and before they can attend camps. Those programs left a gap in services for children ages 4 to 8, Rody says. Terra Thompson and Rody agree that the intent was met.

"I know when Jacob left the toddler program, there was a couple of years there where there was no activity for them, nothing being provided here, up until they could start the day camp ... And it has filled that, and it's been great," says Thompson.

She says she likes getting the boys outside to learn by themselves hands-on. They learn more than way than when she teaches them, she says. Thompson is her sons' home school teacher on a daily basis.

The backpack the boys receive at Salamonie contains contents for that month's lesson but no real instruction, Rody adds. The families follow a book that has projects and activities they can do.

"There are the instructions (inside of the pack) and each month it changes because of what the activity might be. Like one month, we pressed flowers. We went out and found flowers and pressed them. So there was the big book that you open up ... and all of the papers to press the flowers between," Thompson says.

"They (the naturalists) have everything laid out. We come ... we go off in the woods, and we're doing it together, as a family, and I really enjoy that," she adds.

The flexibility of the program appeals to the Thompsons as well.

"Whenever we have free time, we can come, and there's usually a table set up with the backpack on it, and we just pick it up and go. Sign in and head out. So that's nice, that we don't have to schedule a time."

She also says the naturalists are good with kids and can try to answer any question they might have.

One of Joshua Thompson's favorite activities is casting prints they find for the activities in September. Jacob Thompson also likes looking for animal tracks. The boys enjoy the maple syrup month, February, and even though tapping the tree wasn't successful, they agree all three of them had fun.

"I just like it," Joshua Thompson says.

They also like seeing deer and birds when they are on their trail. The boys have an assigned trail they clean while visiting and Terra Thompson says that teaches them accountability. There's a sign on the trail that says it is their trail, which they like a lot.

"I was surprised that they're so excited about that, but they were. They enjoy keeping (the trail) cleaned up."
The family does more than just the Backpack Program at Salamonie.

The four of them (dad included) hike trails, ride horses and go fishing. Terra Thompson thinks the children's programs opened the rest of Salamonie up to them.

"One of the months (January) actually sent us over to the forest because that's where the dam is and taught them about the dam ... I didn't even know where the dam was on Salamonie," she says.

"If they hadn't offered these programs, I don't think we would have ever really figured out what was out here ... what all Salamonie held for us."

For more information on Salamonie Reservoir or UWIS, visit www.dnr.IN.gov/UWIS or call 260-468-2127.