Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

What did Appalachian Ohio use to look like? History time!

What are we walking on?

How often do you think about the earth beneath your feet? While you move about your day do you consider who owns the land you’re walking on? Do you think of who used to own that land? What about what that land was like before anyone owned it?

When we study the environment, we often study the here and now: what’s growing in this forest now, what is the pH of this stream today, how is the water flowing through our watershed?  These questions are important, but we often forget about our environment’s history.  The impact of glaciers on our landscape in the past tells us a lot about how water moves today.  To know why our forests grow the way they do

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, we have to know how the forests used to be–if they even were forests! The pH of a stream is more meaningful when you have its past values to compare it to.

A long, long time ago

From fossil records and geologic surveys, we can tell that Ohio used to actually be covered with water. An incredibly long time ago, what is now Ohio was just south of the equator and part of the ocean floor.

What effect do you think this could have on our current environment? How might our land having previously been at the bottom of an ocean affect what’s here now? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Trilobites, an ocean-dwelling animal, lived in Ohio and are the state fossil.

Eventually, this ocean transformed several times. It became a warm, shallow sea with coral reefs and lots of fish. Later, those seas retreated. This area became largely covered by swamps, marshes, and deltas, home to animals like reptiles and amphibians.

This is why the bedrock in our area is similar to what you find on the ocean floor. We have sedimentary rocks like limestone and sandstone. These rocks form from years of pressure on top of layers of sediment, just like at the bottom of the sea. Knowing about the past helps understand why you can find fossilized shells and hardened sand in Ohio!

A long time ago

During the time of dinosaurs, there isn’t very much scientific information on what was happening in Ohio. Scientists have discovered dinosaur fossils from this era in other parts of the country, but not from where we’re standing now. We don’t know why for sure, but the most common idea is that there was a lot of erosion (wearing away of sediment and rocks) in Ohio during this period. The erosion erased records like fossils of any of the plants and animals of that time.

So, we can make educated guesses about what happened here during the dinosaur eras, but the guesses are limited by a lack of information. Go out searching in your neck of the woods: if you find a dinosaur fossil you could be the cause of an enormous scientific breakthrough!

A little while ago

The next big change for Ohio came with the glaciers of the Ice Age.

If you’ve traveled through Ohio, you might notice that most of it is incredibly flat–except for where we live, in the southeast. This is due to years and years of flattening, scraping, and carving from giant sheets of ice constantly expanding and receding during the Ice Age. Those glaciers wore down most of Ohio. But the glaciers didn’t reach as far as places like Athens, Marietta or Chillicothe–that’s why our area is so much hillier than the rest of the state!

At the end of the Ice Age, the land at the ends of the glaciers would have looked a lot like places that are far to the north today, like Canada, Alaska, or Russia. There were tundras and boreal forests.

Roaming the tundra and forests were great big animals, often described as “megafauna” (mega – big, fauna – animals), roaming Ohio. There were giant sloth, giant beaver, and mastodons! Last year, a 12-year-old boy even found a mastodon tooth while playing in a creek in Holmes County.

These were the beginnings of our native forests today

, like Wayne National Forest right here in SE Ohio! How do you think these great creatures could have affected our forests? How might we still see any of those impacts today?

A reconstructed skeleton of a giant sloth. Photo by Paul Gravestock.

This is the time when the first humans showed up in Ohio. People followed their prey–the megafauna–across the Bering land-bridge to make it from Asia to the Americas. Our forests have changed alongside us; our cultures and ways of life changed with them. We still see some remnants of this period in our forests today. But they have gone through so much change since the arrival of humans that it can be difficult to recognize

A little more recently

As one of the top predators in recent history, humans have had an enormous impact on the world around us. What we chose to hunt and gather over the years has impacted which species grow or go extinct.

What kind of choices do we make now that have an impact on our environment? Are there any changes that you have noticed during your lifetime? Is there a species that you used to see all the time that now seems quite rare, or is the opposite true of any plants and animals that you know?

Believe it or not, the ecosystems we have around us now emerged very recently. Even the forests you see here might have been clear cut for timber 50 to 100 years ago, so different plants and animals live in them than in older forests. While humans have always had an impact on their environment, our recent history has left some scars on our land that we are now trying to fix. Other choices we make can help forests grow strong again. What choices do you see that help or hurt our ecosystems here?

Getting what we need to live will always impact the ecosystem around us. But it is important for our relationship with the environment to be symbiotic (mutually beneficial, or good for both sides).

If you’d like to learn more about the early people of this area, you can check out our Appalachian Ohio Culture Virtual Field Trip. We talked to Paul Patton, an archaeologist who has focused on the first people of SE Ohio, and Jon Sowash, the current owner of the historic Eclipse Company Town.

Wayne National Forest

The history of Wayne National Forest is an interesting one. This area was highly coveted by early colonizers for lots of different natural resources. While the SE Ohio woodlands and streams were highly regarded for their value, they weren’t always treated very well. Watch this documentary to learn about the history of natural resource extraction and how Wayne National Forest came to be!

“A Forest Returns: The Success Story of Ohio’s Only National Forest” narrated by Ora E. Anderson.

You can also learn more about the history and culture of these woodlands here on the Wayne National Forest site!

Have you been out to the Bailey’s Tract yet? The Wayne just recently opened several miles of Mountain Biking and multiple-use trails in the Chauncey-Millfield area. Check out the latest addition to one of Southeast Ohio’s most important environmental successes when you have time!

Your turn: what’s your history?

  1. How far back can you remember? When were your first memories? Write them down or talk to a friend or family member about them.

    Mine are from the year 2000. Anything that happened before that is something I had to learn from someone else!

    A lot of what I just shared about our history we learned from super cool science tricks. But we also learn about history through the telling and re-telling of stories. Information passes down from generation to generation through language. People hold onto stories just like rocks hold onto fossils.
  2. Try to find out more about the history of your family!

    Interview an older family member to find out where they’ve lived , what jobs they’ve had, how they’ve seen the areas where they’ve grown up change. Maybe they experienced some of the the history I talked about above!

    If possible, try to create a timeline for your family. Do you know how your family came to America? Or have they always been here? Did you move to where you live now during your lifetime, or do you still live where you were born?

    Understanding the context of your life and of your family can help you to understand why things are the way they are now. Maybe your grandparents talk a bit differently than you, maybe that’s because you learned to talk in a different place than they did! When you understand history, everything in the present starts to make more sense.


Virtual Field Trip: Baby Animals

At your request, Rural Action is hosting a virtual field trip where we will focus entirely on some of nature’s cutest organisms, baby animals! As spring turns to summer, eggs are hatching, babies are trading their downy fluff for their summer coats, and little wings are making their first flaps.

“Mouths to Feed” – CaptPiper

Join us this Friday via Zoom to discuss and learn about animal parenting tactics and offspring adaptations (and to see some cute critters).

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education staff.



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, June 5 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families

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, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

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Virtual Field Trip: Athens-Hocking Recycling Center

Wondering where all of your waste is going? This week on our virtual field trip

, we’re exploring what happens to your recyclables once they arrive at the recycling center. You’ll see some cool machines, and finally learn WHY you can recycle plastic bottles but not a plastic bag.
Look at all of those recyclables!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll teach you all about the basics of recycling, show off some cool machinery, and give you lots of tips and tricks you can use to make your household greener!

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education and Zero Waste staff.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Water Filtration and Purification

Last week, we covered the first things you usually need to do survival situations: taking care of your brain, followed by making shelter. But how will you get water? That’s the next priority.

When out in the wilderness, plan how you will get water before you go! Always pack plenty of water in your bag. The average adult should drink 3-4 liters of water a day, and children should drink anywhere from 1-3 liters per day depending on your age and size. So, if you don’t want to carry all of that water with you, you’re going to need a way to collect water when (or better yet, before) you run out.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Basic Survival

How would you take care of yourself if you were stranded in the wilderness? Have you ever wondered? For the next two weeks, we’ll talk about wilderness survival. Nate starts at the beginning: with preparation.

The best way to stay alive in a survival situation is to never get into one! Survival situations usually happen when something goes wrong. They could be from a mistake that you’ve made, or due to nature’s unpredictable…nature.

Today we’ll focus on being prepared for the worst, just in case something does go wrong. If you’re properly prepared, a situation that may otherwise be life-or-death could have a very simple solution.

Planning Ahead

You’ll save yourself quite a bit of trouble by planning ahead whenever you head out into the wilderness. Even if it’s just a quick hike somewhere that you know really well, make sure you have everything you need to be safe. Some ideas of what to think about:

  • Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Bring enough food and water for how long you’ll be gone.
  • Check the weather. What do you need to stay dry, warm enough, or cold enough?
  • What route are you hiking? What might you encounter while you are out?

These questions can start you thinking. But every person and situation is different. What dangers or help exist where you are hiking? What are some of your needs? Can you think of any questions we should add? Share your ideas here:

The 10 Essentials

Compass with paper maps and pine flowers placed on dry wheat straw in morning sunlight. Concept of adventure tourism or survival in the forest.

Do you know exactly what you would take with you if you were going on a hike today? Maybe just a water bottle and a jacket, or a giant backpack full of all of the latest camping gear?

I challenge you to pick out “10 essentials ” today, the 10 things that would be most helpful to you in a wilderness emergency. What do you think you really need? Can you fit all 10 essentials into a backpack? Can you carry that backpack comfortably?

Share your lists with us in this form. Or, go to the comments to share a picture of you with your 10 essentials ready to go!

Once you’ve come up with YOUR 10 essentials, check out this list here to see if you agree with some professionals in the field.

The Rule of 3

Perhaps you’re lost and it’s getting dark…what should you do first? Do you look for food or water, build a fire, or find shelter?

The rule of 3 is a guideline to help decide what to do first.

You can survive (approximately):

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (in unsafe conditions like extreme cold or heat)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

First priority is your brain. Your brain is your most important survival tool. If you panic, stop thinking, or get very discouraged, fancy skills or tools won’t help you. Take care of your brain by taking deep breaths, calming down, and resting when you need to.

After you’ve taken care of your brain, then it’s time to think about shelter, water, and food. That order is important!

Does this rule affect your 10 essentials at all? What did you change, if anything, on your list?

Explore More Survival Skills

Later this week, the Young Naturalists Club will be uploading more videos and blog posts to help you build survival skills. But, if you want to get a head start or need some inspiration for your 10 essentials, check out a few of these videos on youtube!

Joe (another educator on this blog) led this virtual field trip on survival skills, especially fire building. Explore these videos or watch the whole event to learn more about fires and making rope!


  1. Plan ahead before adventuring in nature. What do you need to think about where you live?
  2. Make a list of 10 essential items that you think could help you the most in a survival situation.
  3. Remember the rule of threes. Does it change your plan?
  4. Research other survival skills that interest you–tell us if you want to learn more about something in particular!

Share your ideas in the forms or in the comments below! We’ll share the ideas that come in later in the week.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Bird Migration

Right now, in our very own backyards, an amazing annual event is taking place. Birds are currently traveling from their winter residences all the way to their summer homes! This is called migration.

Your challenge today is to find as many different species of birds as possible and to figure out how they got here!

As it is currently the height of migration season, we have an incredibly diverse population here with us. Some birds might be full-time residents, but others are just passing through. Take a look outside and see what you can find!

Once you’ve found a bird, go to Cornell’s All About Birds site to be guided through identifying it.

It may take patience to see birds outside your home. If you can’t get a good look at a bird at home, try these livestreamed bird feeders:

  • This live footage of a bird feeder in Ithaca, NY has similar birds as Ohio.
  • This one in Fort Davis, TX is farther away. Do you see any birds that are the same as here? Any birds that don’t live here?

What to look for:

When trying to identify birds, there are a few characteristics that can be incredibly helpful:

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Observing with iNaturalist

Today, we’ll be showing you a way to take your nature observations a step further, by contributing them to a website used by scientists (and by nature-lovers like us!)

Using the app iNaturalist, you can share the cool things you find, and get help identifying what they are.  At Rural Action, we’ve been using iNaturalist to try to identify all we can in the Wayne National Forest. Because of it, we’ve found moths and a dragonfly that have never been recorded there before!

Who knows, maybe you’ll make a discovery yourself!