Volunteers Share the Joy of Local Nature at the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market

By Eric Weyer

It is tempting to think of nature as something that exists only in wild, untouched places: the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the salt marshes of the Eastern Shore, or the flood-swept islands of the Potomac. But the wondrous beauty of nature can be found even in the most developed of places.

Helping people see, treasure, and protect the natural world around them is the core mission behind the “Pop-Up Nature Centers,” hosted by the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists (ARMN) and the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation at the Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market.

A market visitor stops to chat with Eric Weyer and take in exhibits on local nature at the pop-up nature center. Photo by Kurt Moser.

These (mostly) monthly events, held by Kurt Moser, Laura Bachle, Ruth Lane, Molly Tepper, and myself (Eric Weyer), have explored a variety of environmental topics relevant to the specific environment of Lower Four Mile Run.

Our latest event featured the turtles of Lower Four Mile Run. Visitors were attracted to turtle carapaces (the top of the turtle’s shell) and plastrons (the bottom of the turtle’s shell), the eggs of snapping turtles, and stuffed toy turtles of various species.

Topics covered at the Pop-Up Nature Centers have included “Pollinators,” “Geology,” “Social Insects,” “Winter Weather,” and “Birds.” Each event features displays and activities for visitors of all ages. Highlights of previous events include making real-feeling snow from baking soda and shaving cream, simulating the flow of water and the impact of pollution in the Four Mile Run watershed using an Enviroscape® model, and showing visitors what different types of pollen look like under a powerful microscope.

Once visitors were drawn in, Laura, Molly, and I used the displays to talk about the ecology of turtles, helped by Alonso Abugattas’ wonderful book, The Reptiles and Amphibians of the Washington DC Metro Area. Some were fascinated to learn that turtle shells are made of keratin—the same material that makes up fingernails.

Others were amazed to learn that the sex of a turtle is determined by the temperature of the turtle nest. Often, conversations revolved around turtles that visitors had seen in their backyards or in different parks around the area.

Visitors with kids were especially drawn to the different stuffed toy turtles. One child, the son of a market vendor, peppered me with questions about these turtle species. “What does a turtle’s skeleton look like?”, “How does the turtle eat its food?”, and the ever-popular “How do turtles poop?”

A hands-on turtle display includes stuffed toyes, a classic book, facts on turtles and a chance to make your own paper turtle. Photo by Eric Weyer.

After examining the stuffed turtles, many kids chose to join Molly and make a turtle of their own out of paper cutouts and egg cartons. They then had the chance to color their turtle as they saw fit.

At the end of their visit, whether short or long, visitors leave the center with smiles on their faces and a new sense of appreciation for nature in their own communities.

About the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation

The Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization that envisions the lower Four Mile Run as a cherished community resource and a model for natural lands stewardship in an urban setting. Its mission is to promote nature, culture, and community at the lower Four Mile Run through restoration, advocacy, recreation, and education.

Leave a Reply