ZooTeens blaze new paths to conservation at Wood County parks


PERRYSBURG — Teens from across Northwest Ohio are converging at Wood County parks to do conservation and restoration projects as part of the Toledo ZooTeen Program.

The Toledo ZooTeen program lets volunteer teens participate in a variety of community service and conservation projects that are away from the zoo, and once a week those projects are at parks in Wood County.

“This is my second year with the program. I really enjoy the conservation projects. It’s nice to see the difference you can make in just a couple of hours,” said C.K. Kramer, a St. Ursula Academy student who was inspired to join because of her older sister’s experience with the program.

The students range in age from 13 to 17. They come from different school districts, and they travel around doing a variety of programs. Most of the activities outside of the Toledo Zoo are nature related and with the Wood County parks, it’s mostly plant related.

“They have been known to collect seeds, plant plants, combat invasive species, cut back trails or wash pots. Anything we ask them to do, we teach them and train them,” Eric Scott, Wood County Park District stewardship coordinator, said.

This summer the ZooTeens are working at the W.W. Knight Nature Preserve and the J.C. Reuthinger Memorial Preserve, both in Perrysburg. This month, they are at W.W. Knight and 44 acres of property there is plenty of work to do, but they are concentrating on building an entirely new trail.

When they start at Reuthinger, they will be working on repairs to the nursery.

“Today we were helping remove weeds and some invasive species, to open up a new trail,” Kenzie Kaseman, the Toledo Zoo supervisor for the ZooTeens, said.

Zeb Albert has been with the park district for seven years, as the restoration specialist.

“My main job is to work on seed collection of the native species we have in the area and work on restoring prairies,” Albert said. “Today, we were working with the ZooTeens group to help start working on opening up a new trail here. It was fantastic. It’s a lot of fun to trailblaze and it’s a lot of fun to work with this group.”

“There’s a lot of an invasive species called buckthorn and most of what we were cutting happened to be that invasive species. It gave us a dual purpose of trailblazing and getting rid of some of the species we don’t want here,” Albert said.

The number of ZooTeens working at the Wood County parks will vary from week to week, but it’s usually about a dozen.

“They are all just very happy and a great help. With only a four-man staff, and clearing a trail, it would take me and my crew a longer time than with these extra 24 hands,” Scott said. “So we are very appreciative. We don’t mind training them, educating them and doing anything we can to help us and help them serve our community.”

As stewardship coordinator, Scott said that he is basically in charge of natural resources for the Park District, keeping him on the road and keeping tabs on the 17 parks in the system.

“The kids, they love it, because they are learning skills and seeing if this is a field where they could potentially see themselves in the future. They also say it’s a good recommendation to get when they are applying for colleges,” Scott said. “They say they would have signed up for it if they weren’t animal and plant loving people, so they are seeing all kinds of job opportunities for working in an outdoors environment.“

The ZooTeens were excited to talk about their work in the woods, which they compared to a giant garden.

“I’ve gotten to have a lot of fun experiences out in nature and finding wildlife,” ZooTeen Alex Passero, another Northview student, said about his second year with the program.

Rowan Edens has worked at weeding the gardens at Reuthinger, as part of their native seed and plant donation program.

“I’ve done turtle surveys, which is my favorite so far. You go out with some college students and tag turtles by notching their shells. You catch them and basically get the experience of a marine biologist. I really like it,” Edens said.

“My mom heard about it when I was in eighth grade, so I’ve been here since 2019. I took a lot of interest in it. I like to do a lot of conservation. That’s my favorite thing to do,” Makayla Johnson, a senior at Northview, said.

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