The Oracle Says It's Earth Day

We couldn't let Earth Day Pass without at least a mention. And because this particular event is so cool, it made it as the illustrious Pick of the Week.

Oracle State Park's Center for Environmental Education is pulling out all the stops on Saturday to make its Earth Day celebration the best yet. "Fire on the Mountain" is this year's theme, and the event will be chock full of handy--even fun--ways to keep yourself, your kids and your property safe from fire in the upcoming wildfire season.

In the morning, start the day with an educational work party when you help clear brush and fire hazards from around the property's historic Kannally Ranch House. By working to create this "defensible space," homeowners can learn and apply techniques for defending their own properties from wildfire.

After the work party, bring the kids to experience the "Kids Safety House," an interactive mobile home sponsored by the Oracle Fire Department.

"From what I hear," says Park Ranger Jennifer Rinio, "it's this big mobile home that has a bunch of safety hazards in it. There are various fire hazards, like a bunch of cords in an outlet. Kids are supposed to find the different hazards, and when smoke fills the room, they have to escape by climbing out the window."

Obviously, the hazards are simulated, so parents need not be concerned about their children's safety. Another educational installation is the Rolling Rivers Water Education Trailer, sponsored by the Pima Natural Resources Conservation District, featuring a kid-friendly demonstration of a watershed.

Presentations throughout the day feature useful, fire-wise information for safeguarding homes against wildfires, as well as a variety of activities and educational booths from several local organizations. A plant sale will allow attendees to learn about and purchase fire-resistant plants for their gardens. Information on the Firewise program will be available as well.

"It's a program that is trying to educate people," Rinio says. "Instead of having the fire department come save your home, you can take preventive measures to protect your own home by clearing brush and other fuel from 30 feet around your house."

In addition to the fire-themed highlights, there will be guest speakers and activities geared towards appreciation of the 4,000-acre wildlife refuge's natural wonders. Guided trail walks depart throughout the day; for example, well-known ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Felger will lead a plant-identification walk, and park volunteer Jerry Orr will conduct a bird walk.

A variety of guest speakers will educate and entertain park guests at the Earth Day celebration. These talks include a visual presentation on the Rodeo-Chediski Fire by Gil Alvidrez, an educator from Pinetop; a presentation on the Aspen Fire by Heidi Shewel of the U.S. Forest Service; and a talk on the effects of fire on native wildlife by Elissa Ostergaard, an urban wildlife specialist with Arizona Game and Fish.

A highlight of any environmental event, two live-animal presentations will be conducted. Wildlife rehabilitator Kathie Schroeder will give a program with a live bobcat, and Ben Schwartz of the Raptor Rehabilitation Program will show an assortment of live animals.

Not to be forgotten, the musical menu promises entertainment for all. The Barn Jazz Trio with Diamond Jim Hewitt, local folk guitarist Freddie Terry, a mariachi group, performers from Oracle Baton and Dance, and the Redhouse Dancers will provide musical and visual interests for those wishing for a brief break from fire hazards and brush clearing.

When attendees inevitably get hungry, food will be available for a small additional fee from Javelina Barbecue Company and other merchants from noon to 4 p.m. But the company will not be barbecuing javelina, Rinio says. "No, they're going to have beef and pork, roasted corn, beans and tortillas. They say the most expensive plate costs $4.75." Snow cones, coffee, baked goods and other snacks will also be available. Shade tents and water will be available to all.

Rinio notes that Tucsonans commonly mistake Oracle State Park for its close sister, Catalina State Park.

"A lot of people just assume that (Oracle State Park) is on Oracle Road," she says, "and they end up at Catalina State Park."

To get to Oracle State Park, take highway 77 to Oracle, and turn right on Oracle's main street, American Avenue. Follow it for two miles to Mount Lemmon Road; the park is one mile up Mount Lemmon Road.