The 12 children spent more than an hour peeking under every nook and cranny, hoping to spot a black bear along the path.
By KATIE-NELL SCANLON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The sunlight streams through the large oak leaves as mosquitoes pester and threaten to bite. A shallow creek runs quietly nearby and large rocks make for tricky obstacles.
The serene spot was once bustling with bears' grunts and snarls.
On a bear hunt
Twelve children from throughout the Youngstown area spent Wednesday learning about the bears that once roamed the moss-filled forests of Mill Creek Park.
Park naturalists Ray Novotny and Patty McHenry led the group through the woods, identifying the many caves and boulders that once housed the black bears and gave the Bears Den area its name.
"The bears have been gone from this area since 1850," McHenry explained. "But they're now coming back into Ohio from other states."
McHenry said 25 bears have made their way back to Ohio, spotted mostly in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. Bear claw marks on trees can be seen as evidence of their return, she said.
The children saw samples of such marks and listened to recordings of cub noises at Bears Den cabin before heading out on a hunt of their own.
Equipped with bug spray, flashlights and backpacks, the group spent more than an hour peeking under every nook and cranny, hoping to spot a bear along the path.
Sarah Dunlap, 11, of Youngstown said she likes hiking through the woods and looking for things. Sarah and the other pupils traveled carefully through the rocky trail, observing everything from "daddy long-legged" spiders to raccoon footprints.
The Mill Creek Park Explorers Program is offered to pupils who have completed the fourth and fifth grades. The children heard about park history, American Indians and early settlers. They also learned about other Ohio wildlife such as deer, wolves, turkey, owls and eagles.
Novotny, a naturalist at the park since 1985, shared his knowledge of the park and the plants and animals that inhabit it.
"The bears can squeeze into small places," Novotny said, pointing out a narrow cave along the Bears Den trail.
Jordan Vigorito, 10, of Girard said the youths saw a baby groundhog on their hike Monday.
"We also got to see the remains of the Old Furnace next to Pioneer Pavilion," said Jordan, who volunteers for events at the park.
The program continues through Friday, taking the children to park spots such as Lanterman's Mill and Newport Wetlands. McHenry said the group also will help make root beer and johnnycake.