While you may have missed some of the classes included in the Delaware Seashore State Park’s October 2010 to April 2011 program, many will be repeated in March and April, and new ones, fit for the spring season, are already on the schedule.
The classes are primarily led by naturalist Megan Fox, who graduated from Trinity Christian College with a double major in chemistry and biology, and professes a deep love for nature which she shares with enthusiasm and humor.
Barbara Hove, from Bayside, near Fenwick Island, is a newcomer to the area and said she finds the park program to be an excellent way to get to explore her natural surroundings.
“I’ve been on the Sea Hawk Trail Hike at Holts Landing and the one at Fresh Pond,” she said. “It’s a shame so few people attend the winter programs, but it’s nice having individual attention for your questions.”
Denise Jackson from Lewes is a long-term resident who is very familiar with the Cape Henlopen area but less so with the parks at the southern end of the county. Like Hove, she has also been on the Holts Landing hike.
“It was wonderful to walk along and have Megan point out a gigantean, 30-foot-high, vine of poison ivy on one side of the trail and then a tiny tufted titmouse on the other. And although I knew of the park’s proximity to the Indian River, I was so surprised to see the large, beautiful pond right in its center,” she said.
On that occasion the pond was partially frozen over, allowing the tracks of beavers and other critters to be readily observed.
Fox likes to relate one class to another.
“On the Fresh Pond trail in Ocean View, I point out how the succulent prickly pear cactus actually shrivels in its winter state in order to prevent the water in its leaves from freezing and expanding,” she said.
In the Edible Plants of the Coast class, she describes how the bright yellow blossoms of May through July become fruits or “tunas” that ripen in the fall.
“The fruit tastes similar to strawberries and is gelatinous,” said Fox. “It can be made into jelly or used to flavor ice cream.”
After the class, participants had the opportunity to taste some prickly pear jelly on a cracker and pronounced it “delicious.”
Weston Young from Salisbury came to the Edible Plants class to get some new ideas for cooking.
“For the last four years, I’ve tried to conform to a paleo diet and lifestyle,” he said, explaining that human beings started off as hunter-gatherers and that in this area it is easier to obtain meat from hunting than fruit and nuts from gathering.
“I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) for my seasonal vegetables,” said Fox. “Now, when I trek through the woods or paddle my kayak this summer, I have some ideas for a variety of things to look for to cook.”
Kayakers will recognize another edible plant mentioned in class, but this one for its salty properties. Glasswort or pickle weed grows in tidal salt marshes.
“It should only be eaten in its green state,” said Fox, adding that early settlers called it “poor man’s asparagus.” She also pointed out that the old wives’ tale that, if the birds and animals can eat it, humans can too, is a myth. “Be knowledgeable before you decide to taste something from the wild,” she advised.
Fox also warned that the law in all Delaware state parks is the “Leave no trace” philosophy of “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” She indicated East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro sells native plants and that the Center for Inland Bays has a native plant sale at the James Farm every spring.
“This year it is on May 14,” said class participant Pat Drizd, who volunteers and teaches at the James Farm.
Frank Frantzen works on the beach day and night as a contractor for beach replenishment and has attended several park programs.
“They are a diversion,” he said. “I especially loved the Lantern Tour… going back in time through the museum, walking the beach at night with just the swaying light from a lantern, listening to ghost stories… So cool!”
All of these classes can be found in the park’s program guide and will be repeated, along with many others, in March and April. Some titles are: Welcome Back Osprey, Stargazing at the Seashore, Squid Dissection, Turks-Head Knot Bracelets, Beach Driving and Surf Fishing.
For more information about programs, call the Indian River Life-Saving Station at (302) 227-6991. Beginning March 4, the location will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.