Everyone loves a good mystery, and children can experience a good mystery on their own and follow animal clues at Custer State Park’s Nature Day Camp: Track Detectives.
“This camp is very popular each year with all the kids and parents,” said Julie Brazell, naturalist at the Game Lodge Campground. “Kids love learning anything about animals, but most animals are nocturnal, and are not visible during the day. At this camp, we help kids identify which animals were around and where they were going by tracks and other visible signs they typically leave behind."
Participants will learn about which types of birds and mammals live in the Black Hills area, matching animal fur or feather samples — and even scat — with prints of tracks.
“We talk a lot about each kind of animal, and then each kid gets to pick one particular animal to study,” Brazell said. “Using a rubber mold, they will get to make a plaster cast of their animal’s track to take home along with fact cards.”
Brazell said the campers will analyze walking styles of different animals – the “perfect steppers, hoppers, waddlers, and bounders” – and then mimic the different patterns themselves.
Also included in the camp are games and a special track hunting walk, where the group will go out on the trail to look for signs of animal activity.
“Kids get so excited discovering an exoskeleton of an insect, or a feather,” Brazell said. “I enjoy seeing the looks on their faces when they spot an animal sign along the way.”
Custer State Park offers many different day camps throughout the year. In August, the Game Lodge Campground hosts another camp, All About Buffalo, highlighting facts about the large herd living inside the Park.
Participation is open to any young person interested in animals. “We have a lot of out of state visitors at this time of year, but this is for locals, too,” Brazell said.
The camps are geared toward the upper elementary age, so the park limits the size of the group to 25, Brazell said.
“We do offer parents the option to either stay with or drop off their children who are between the ages of 7-12, but recommend they stay with any that are younger.”
Brazell added: “There’s so much you can do with kids to learn about animals, and we just have a lot of fun doing that together out in the Park."