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Little Game Hunting

Mark Kelly will lead three insect safaris during the city’s Earth Day event.

Don’t let it bug you, but the city’s annual celebration of Earth Day is sure to feature a host of insects.

In fact, they may steal the show.

From 9 a.m. to noon on April 29, the city will hold its annual Earth Day celebration at Four Mile Run Park. The park is loaded with all kinds of insects: ants, spiders, ladybugs, leafhoppers and crickets, just to name a few. That’s why Mark Kelly will be leading several insect safaris.

“The whole family will have fun, and everybody can participate,” said Kelly, who is director of the city’s Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center. “We’ll be going out and doing something similar to field biology.”

The insect safaris will start with a brief introduction. Kelly will comment on the natural qualities of the area and its inhabitants. Then participants will be armed with butterfly nets and sent into the wilderness to find some friends. The insects will be carefully inserted into magnifying boxes for better viewing, and then safely returned to nature.

“We’ll talk about their place in biology and how they fit into the ecosystem,” Kelly said. “Essentially, it will be a interpretive program.”

A NATIVE OF Annandale, Kelly has always been fascinated by nature and history. As a teenager, he used to poke around the woodlands that now surround the Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center. When he was 17, he found several prehistoric arrowheads that are now on display at the west-end facility behind Ramsay Elementary School. His enthusiasm for the natural order is infections, and his insect safari is a wonderful opportunity to learn about creepy crawly critters.

“Some are considered beneficial, and some are considered pests,” he said. “Termites could certainly be considered pests in your home, but they also play an essential role in preventing wildfires.”

Kelly is a product of Northern Virginia: Annandale High School, Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, eventually receiving a master’s degree in environmental science and policy. Last year, he helped re-launch the Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center, which had been closed for two years during an extensive renovation.

“Today, we live in an urbanized society, and so we are more distanced from the natural environment psychologically,” he said. “Our ancestors lived a lot closer to nature, so they were more intimately aware of nature.”

His discovery of the prehistoric arrowheads uncovered a rare window into the distant past. On display in the center, visitors can view a Halifax Point from 3000 B.C. or a Vernon Point from 2800 B.C. Display panels show images of tribal life, a time when subsistence was acquired through hunting and gathering.

“I knew that this was something very important,” he said, recalling the day he found them. “These people existed before written records thousands of years ago.”

THE INSECT SAFARI is one of the annual Earth Day celebration’s most popular activities. Other activities include a community cleanup of Four Mile Run and several exhibition tables. The event will include a wide variety of exhibitions relating to this year’s theme: “sustainability and the spirit of Earth Day.”

“It’s always a great event, rain or shine,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka, who read a resolution honoring Earth Day during an April 11 meeting of the City Council. “We’ve had both over the last several years.”

Children will receive an Earth Day passport. Then can then travel through the world of environmental science, receiving a stamp after answering science-related questions. The highlight of the day is the community stream clean-up. Volunteers will receive water, snacks, trash bags, gloves and a free T-shirt.