By Sean Barron
One of the first things 2-year-old Andrew McNatt often does after hearing unusual noises outside his McDonald home is conclude their source is a bear.
“He really likes bears,” said his mother, Jen McNatt. “He claims we have a bear outside named Cookie.”
Feeding Andrew’s love for the large, shy animals was his participation in a recent “Tales for Tots” gathering in Mill Creek MetroParks’ Bears Den cabin on the West Side.
Andrew and his mother were among the youngsters and adults who attended the hands-on, family oriented event, which consisted of coloring, crafts, a story and a hike — all centered around bears.
The interactive gathering also taught the children age 2 and 3 the basics about bears, such as their eating habits and common personality traits, explained Julie Bartolone, a park naturalist.
Before reading a story titled “Good Night Bear!” by Joanne Mattern, naturalist Hillary Lenton shared with her young audience characteristics about brown, black and polar bears, including how they forage for food and swim. Of the three, black bears are the most common in this part of the country, she noted.
“Ladies and gentlemen, do you know what a black bear might like to eat?” she asked.
“Carpet!” one of the children replied to laughter, because the youngsters were seated on square carpet pads.
Lenton then explained that many such animals favor bee larvae, berries and honey, and they like to live in caves and underneath brush piles.
After the story, Andrew, who has visited the Akron and Pittsburgh zoos, did his best to make a bear with glue, paper and crayons as naturalist Marilyn Williams started the craft activity. The result was a bear with five eyes — and plenty of amusement from his mother.
Also putting her artistic abilities to work was Reagan Cvetkovic, 2, of Canfield, who already has been on a weeklong cruise to Alaska.
“She loves animals,” said Reagan’s mother, Chrissy Cvetkovic, adding that last summer’s cruise was to celebrate a relative’s 50th birthday.
In addition, Reagan loved being in a helicopter, which dropped the family off on a large glacier, Chrissy continued.
Also enjoying Reagan’s artwork and other festivities was her grandmother, Tina Downard of Canfield.
After the art project, the children, their parents and grandparents set out on a hike to look for foods common to bears as well as places in which they often seek shelter. Rain shortened the walk, however, though several of the youngsters stood under a large rock formation behind the cabin and got a sense of one of the bears’ habitats.