SPRINGFIELD — A chorus of “oohs” and “awesomes” greeted the emergence of Chloe during a recent program at Tickfaw State Park.
Chloe was unfazed.
But since Chloe is a mottled black and grey corn snake, her reaction was hard to judge.
Chloe and several others of her type were the main features of the Park’s Junior Ranger Day on July 27.
The annual program gives youngsters ages 8 to 12 a chance to get behind the scenes at the park and see some of the native species up close, park rangers said.
“It lets kids have an opportunity to learn about the park and the outdoors,” Park Ranger and naturalist Brad Lavigne said. “Hopefully it will get them interested in being outdoors.”
Lavigne and four other park staff members led the 24 children who registered for the Junior Ranger day through a program that included crafts, a hike, a talk from an enforcement ranger, and of course, the snakes.
To start, the youngsters were given a wooden medallion with their name written on it and a selection of Native American symbols which they drew.
“I chose the friendship symbol,” said Sydney Boegere, 11, of Hammond, while carefully drawing two arrows crossed to form an X.
Boegere was sitting next to Brailyn Russo, 10, of Denham Springs, who also chose the friendship symbol.
Both said that they came to the Junior Ranger Day to have fun “and learn about new things.”
At a nearby table, John Ross, 10, of Hammond, drew a coyote symbol on his medallion.
Ross had come with his friend, Brett Davis, 12, and the two were looking forward to seeing the snakes and other animals.
After threading a leather thong through a hole in their medallions and adding some recycled beads, the chidden donned their handiwork and headed out for a hike.
When they returned, Lavigne ushered them back into the room from which they had come, and broke out the venomous snakes — “just replicas,” he told the crowd.
“If these were alive, I definitely would not be holding them,” he said.
Lavigne showed life-like replicas of each of the six different venomous snakes found in Louisiana: the pygmy rattler, coral snake, copperhead, cottonmouth, timber or cane break rattler and the diamondback.
The students peppered Lavigne with questions like “Where would you find a coral snake?” and “What do copperheads eat?”
After the replicas, Park Ranger Jennifer Shearer brought out four corn snakes, all in different colors: Mickey, Sun-kissed, Caspar and Chloe.
As the four writhed in her hand, one student wanted to know what they ate and how often she fed them.
“They eat mice, and I usually feed them about once every couple of weeks,” she said.
After she put the corn snakes away, Shearer brought out Scarlet, her ball python.
She gave the students an opportunity to touch the python.
“It feels gooey, not that slimy,” said Maria Guay, 9, of Ponchatoula.
Easton Cifreo, 12, of Walker, disagreed.
“It was slimy and smooth,” he said.
“It’s a pretty successful program,” said Shearer, who has been at the park for nearly nine years and has participated in “at least seven” of the Junior Ranger Days, she said.
The one-day program gives kids a good opportunity to learn, she said, and at the end, a patch and a certificate is mailed to them, Lavigne said.