Right in Our Own Backyard

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Right in Our Own Backyard

Field trips are much more infrequent now than when I was a kid. From what I remember, we went on several per year. It was such a treat to eat a brown paper bag smooshed banana and peanut butter sandwich, and my mom always packed a canned Coke, wrapped in tinfoil, to keep cold. Plus, we got out of school. Most importantly, we got out of school.

I don’t remember many field trip locations, except the ones where we went out of town. We traveled to North Carolina, Disney World, Washington D.C., Savannah and I’m sure there were others. The rest, the local ones, run together in a hazy blur.

I do remember the smell of the buses. At first, they smelled like diesel fuel. As the trip went on, they reeked of kids.

Public school kids go on an average of one field trip per year these days. It’s kind of sad, but it’s also a necessary evil. Buses aren’t budget friendly.

When The Girl asked me to accompany her on this week’s trip, I gladly said YES. My mom never, ever came on field trips, and I was so jealous of the kids whose moms chaperoned. If she’s still asking, I’ll go. Someday she’ll stop asking.

Unfortunately, the Richmond County transportation department sent one large bus and a small one, so there wasn’t enough room for the second graders, their teachers and the accompanying parents. As much as I wanted to ride with The Girl, I didn’t argue when they asked if we minded driving ourselves.

Even though it was always fun to get out of school, most field trips were lackluster. You almost hoped someone got lost (and then found, of course), just to spice things up a bit. Yesterday’s destination was really cool. Honestly.

We went to Phinizy Swamp. I’m embarrassed to admit that, after almost 15 years in Augusta, I’d never been. It’s pretty dang special. It’s practically in your backyard.

Sandwiched right between the airport and the absolutely rank smelling water treatment facility is a pristine, peaceful swamp. Old silos at the front entrance house owls. On a field trip, you’re given tweezers and owl, um, spit up, so you can dig through and find rodent bones in it. Sounds nasty, I know, but it was fascinating.

We learned about different habitats and ecosystems, saw bugs in a microscope, took water samples from Butler Creek, and walked for hours. One tree had at three snakes in it. Next to the tree, there were two more snakes, slithering through the crystal clear water. If we saw that many, right there at once, imagine how many there are in that whole place? A hawk flew over, ducks foraged in the water bed for food, and there were turtles. Apparently there are beavers and gators, too, but we ran out of time.

I wish we had more time to wander the raised boardwalks and trails, but we’ll be back. We want to bring bikes and a picnic. Weekdays, the swamp opens at noon and closes at dusk. On weekends, they’re open all day. You can schedule field trips and there are tours on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. And get this — it’s free.

This weekend, they have their annual Earth Day celebration, but if you miss that, don’t fret. There’s plenty more to see every day. If you go in the summer, bring bug spray and a hat. I’d imagine it gets hot. The water’s filled with mosquito fish (or Gambusia! I listened!), but I doubt they can put a dent in the swarms on a hot Augusta summer day.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you think there’s little more to Augusta than a yearly golf tournament, you’re sorely mistaken. This is just one of many cool things to do; it’s worth the short drive. No need to board a yellow bus filled with stinky kids. You can take your own car. Backyard. Fun. FREE.

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