Monarch migration. Spider Webs. Pond life. These are just a few of the themes in a new, free series hosted by area parks and conservation groups. “Nature Quest” includes eight challenges, and it begins this weekend.

Families can print off a one-page Nature Quest challenge and take it with them as a guide for exploring the natural world. The sheet includes a set of prompts that will get kids of all ages to pay attention to nature, ask questions, be curious and be creative. New challenges will be released throughout the fall. Anyone who completes all eight challenges can enter to win the grand prize.

“Nature reawakens our interconnectedness. Curiosity is heightened and our hearts are quieted,” Judy Rust, a board member for Oak Heritage Conservancy said.

Oak Heritage has nature preserves scattered around southeast Indiana.

They are partnering with Muscatatuck and Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuges, Clifty Falls State Park and others to host the kid-friendly challenge. The groups would normally host wildflower hikes and other guided events this time of year. Those events are on hold because of the pandemic – but the conservation groups still want to help people connect to the natural world.

The Nature Quest challenges aim to fill that void: the challenges can be completed on their own by families, all while social distancing – and they help people learn and explore.

“As the temperatures cool off, the meadows and woods light up with color and life,” Donna Stanley, Park Ranger at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge said. “It’s a great time to get outside.”

The Refuge’s friends group, the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society, is providing the grand prize. Kids of all ages who complete all eight Nature Quest challenges can enter to win the grand prize, a bundle of monarch butterfly themed books and goodies.

Stanley is helping design Nature Quest, along with other naturalists in the area. A new challenge will be released every other week, for the rest of the year.

Each Nature Quest challenge is a one-page handout designed to help families have a little guidance as they explore the natural world. Parents can print the challenges for free (or take a screen shot) from the Oak Heritage Conservancy website.

Families that look at the challenges will find a set of prompts to complete together. Kids will look for animal tracks, draw insect wings, listen for frogs and more.

Each challenge highlights a park that’s perfect for that specific challenge – but the Nature Quest challenges are designed so that you could complete them at almost any public natural area or park.

“Nature Quest might be a good way to explore some new places this fall,” Stanley said.

“Kids of all ages can find balance by taking a break from screens and technology. Right now, the best brain break is right outside our doors in our local parks and riversides,” Kara Motsinger, the Children’s Librarian at Madison Public Library said.

The library is another partner on the Nature Quest challenge.

Each challenge comes with a list of books that kids and adults might enjoy reading before, during, or after the spend time exploring in nature. Motsinger is helping spread the word to libraries across southeast Indiana, and to homeschool families.

Other partners on the project include Clifty Falls State Park, Big Oaks Conservation Society and Jefferson County Parks. Each partner is helping spread the word, so that as many area residents as possible can participate.

Nature Quest is free for everyone, and anyone who completes a challenge can enter to win the grand prize. Details about entering to win are on the Oak Heritage Conservancy website.

Download the first Nature Quest challenge at www.oakheritageconservancy.org/nature-quest/ or follow Oak Heritage Conservancy on social media to hear when new challenges are released.

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