It’s her nature Virginia Whittington sparking interest in the great outdoors

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gardeners have, for centuries, passed on their experience and knowledge of nature to younger generations.

It was a way of life in the rural South until a generation ago. Many residents grew up on farms, and others who lived in the city had a mentor who passed on his or her gardening expertise.

Virginia Whittington — Warren County 4-H leader, past president of the Mississippi 4-H Volunteer Association, floral designer and local garden club member — knows the importance of teaching youths to appreciate, understand and care about our natural world.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“My love is being out in nature,” she said. “I’m the most relaxed and happiest when I’m out in the woods. It’s never dull outdoors.”

As a 4-H leader, Whittington has spent countless hours working with kids. For the past 17 years, she has volunteered two weeks each summer at Wild Woods Wanderings, an annual environmental camp at Poverty Point State Historic Site near Delhi, in the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Considered one of the best outdoor classrooms in Louisiana, the refuge consists of more than 80,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest that is home to about 400 animal species and hundreds of native trees and plants.

Poverty Point, one of the most significant archaeological locations in North America, was a ceremonial site and trading center, 12 centuries before the birth of Christ. It features earthworks and mounds built by prehistoric inhabitants. Open to the public year-round, except on major holidays, visitors can view a video and tour a museum featuring artifacts found on site. Special programs are held throughout the year and, each summer, there are excavations by professional archaeologists and their students.

Wild Woods Wanderings is designed for older teens, in 10th to 12th grades. Campers are exposed to information and skills that will not only be useful at camp, but throughout life. Map and compass skills are needed by all campers as well as a general understanding of conservation and our dependency on the environment. Wildlife habitat and management, sustainable forestry, pollution and watershed protection are some of the major areas studied during the week. Time is also spent discussing career and college preparation, public policy and participatory democracy.

Though Whittington assists in many areas at the camp, she is one of the first instructors the kids meet at orientation. She helps campers understand and improve the listening and interpreting skills that are critical if they are to make the most of their week. She leads problem- solving exercises and conducts an exciting night hike without flashlights, during which campers encounter wildlife that is generally not visible during the daylight hours.

Hundreds of students from Louisiana and Mississippi have attended the camp over the years. Many have chosen careers that were influenced by their experience there, including Whittington’s grandsons Andrew Wall and Dale Whittington. Wall left last week for college with plans to become a marine biologist, and Whittington is studying forestry and wildlife management at Mississippi State.

“Many of the campers have not had the opportunity to go out camping,” Whittington said. “What they are taught is comparable to a college level course. No matter what kids read in a book, it is totally different when they experience it first-hand. If I can touch just a few lives, it’s awesome.”

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.