Programs at Wind Cave National Park Help Kids Explore Nature

Ranger with school group.

A park ranger conducts an environmental education program at Wind Cave National Park for area school children. NPS photo.

There's been plenty of discussion lately about the need to help kids "connect" with nature, and Wind Cave National Park is doing something about it. The park is offering programs for exploring nature with children and discovering the park’s backcountry.

The free programs begin on January 12, 2010, and will conclude in April.

The Adventures in Nature program is geared for children ages three to ten, and will be presented by the park's education staff at the visitor center on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. The first program will be on January 12 and run through April 13.

Each session will begin at 10 a.m. and lasting upwards of 2 1/2 hours. “This is an opportunity for young children to experience nature and play in a structured, safe environment,” said park superintendent Vidal Davila. “We hope to awaken a sense of wonder in the children and encourage them to connect with the natural world.”

Each program will have a different theme and is designed with educational objects appropriate for the age level of the students. Potential audiences include home schooled preschool and early elementary children. The first program is titled It's winter! Rangers and students will explore how animals stay warm and alive during the coldest months of the year.

Adults and older children who want to get outside may enjoy the Wind Cave Prairie Walkers,

a hiking group for anyone interested in discovering seldom seen areas of the park, will meet at the park visitor center at 1 p.m. on the last Monday of the month. Participants will then drive to the walk’s location.

If you attend, plan to be out for three to four hours and walk a couple of miles during this moderately strenuous activity. Participants should wear good walking shoes, dress for the weather, and bring water and snacks. The program will be canceled in the event of inclement weather.

Wind Cave National Park offers a great location for learning about nature, and the park includes much more than the famous cave.

One of the world's longest and most complex caves and 28,295 acres of mixed-grass prairie, ponderosa pine forest, and associated wildlife are the main features of the park. The cave is well known for its outstanding display of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. The park's mixed-grass prairie is one of the few remaining and is home to native wildlife such as bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs.

In addition to the events described above, the park also offers two Curriculum Based Environmental Education Programs from late April through mid-May.

The Visitor Center is located 11 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota on U.S. Route 385. You'll find driving directions and a map on the park website. If you need additional information about the programs, contact the park at (605) 745-4600.