Jr Conservationist Field Camp


Building Wetlands

Eco Explorers was pleased to partner with some of our area’s environmental superstars to present an 8-day summer camp experience for Pittsburgh 4th – 6th graders. Eco Explorers joined South Fayette Conservation Group, a local watershed organization,  Hedin Environmental, an environmental engineering firm, and Albert Kollar, geologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and former president of the Pittsburgh Geological Society.

Our activities involved an equal share of indoor and outdoor learning, complete with 4 hands-on field trips. During our classroom days, we participated in  multi-sensory activities to help us to understand our local geology and the phenomena that influence our watersheds (pictured right: building wetlands) and the dynamics of our environment.

Our field experiences intended to introduce us to real environmental professionals and to show us real life examples of the work that environmentalists, engineers and natural scientists do.

We visited Fossils Cliff, one of Pennsylvania’s premiere fossil hunting sites to carefully extract and identify fossils in fossil-bearing strata exactly as paleontologists do every day. We took a trip to the lab of geologist Albert Kollar at the Carnegie Museum and had a private behind-the-scenes tour of the fully-equipped paleontological research laboratory and specimen collection at the museum. We joined South Fayette Conservation Group for a guided tour of a remediated multi-pond wetland.

Wingfield Pines Passive Abandoned Mine Drainage Remediation Site


Mr. Kollar showing us a 20-milion year old lake cobble

Our last day of camp brought our environmental all stars together – we took a trip to the environmental success story, Wingfield Pines, a 25-acre abandoned mine drainage remediation site that mitigates 43 tons of iron oxides flowing into Chartiers Creek (pictured above).  Completed in 2009, the system operates by gravity and treats iron-laden mine discharge that is running at 1,500 gallons per minute across the property before it enters Chartiers Creek. The engineering firm which designed the incredible site, Hedin Environmental, led our lucky campers on a hike through the property. Scientist Albert Kollar joined us again, too – as if the experience wasn’t already cool enough – to show us about the evidence of an ancient 20 million year old lake that once filled the area!

Jr. Conservationist was a truly special experience!


Winchester Thurston Jr. Geologists & Ecosystem Science Lab Summer Camp

Eco Explorers had an amazing 2 weeks of Jr. Geologists and Ecosystems Science at Winchester Thurston North! Our Explorers hailed from all over western PA and even a few of us came from other countries to take part in the awesome summer adventures at Winchester! Our Jr Geologists solved plate tectonic puzzles, studied minerals and crystals under a microscope, cracked geodes and made our own, recreated volcanic eruptions, built earthquake proof skyscrapers to test on our earthquake table, modeled an oil drilling operation, even transformed our classroom into a Californian gold and mineral panning camp from 1848 for a day. We went to mars on our last day of camp to study the geology of planets beyond our own. We and designed, built and raced mars rovers and tested three samples of Martian soil for life using methods we thought might show potential life in soil.

We made a special discovery during our fossil hunt this year. About 300 million years ago, when our local rocks were forming, plants became well represented as fossils in the muddy swampy terrain because the bacteria that could recycle the tough materials in the plants wasn’t very sophisticated yet at breaking them down when they died. Insects are a bit harder to find as good, complete fossils because their bodies tended to get scattered or destroyed so it was very exciting to find a complete beetle fossil in the very good condition that we found it in this summer!

During our Ecosystems Science lab, the Eco Explorers began the week with a puzzle introducing us to the fascinating and often bizarre life forms that have come,gone and changed over the long history of the earth. We devised an anti-venom for a mock snakebite, discovered how fascinating early life forms changed our atmosphere, tested crafts powered by solar and wind energy, devised a plan to make our water safe after an oil spill in our model. We took a tour of campus to identify interesting poisonous edible and medicinal plants and found sassafras, a deadly cousin of the tomato – horsenettle, a plant that is being used in cancer research – pokeweed, blackberries, the plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mom and a whole bunch of other neat plants!

We learned how to test for pH and nutrients in the soil, peered at hitch hiker seeds under the microscope and headed to Winchester Thurston’s little pond to test the water for evidence of an algae explosion and played a game to understand why an algae explosion in the water could lead to a “crash”. We made a cell to take home, built a biome and had a great time learning about the biodiversity of living things!