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Visitors get in touch with nature during festival in Lawrence Township

When 6-year-old Xavier Jusino was asked what he liked most about the Mother Nature Festival that was held at the Lawrence Nature Center on May 13, he was quick to say, “Definitely not the bugs.”

He wrinkled his nose at the thought of the dried bug display, part of the exhibit put together by the Mercer County Master Gardeners. The group had set up shop on a table on the grounds of the nature center, Drexel Avenue, Lawrence Township.

What Xavier did like was the catapult, made of popsickle sticks, rubber bands and a spoon. WAGS Robotics of West Windsor, made up of Girl Scouts from West Windsor and Plainsboro, had set up a display to encourage recycling, among other things. That’s where Xavier discovered the catapult.

“Fourth time’s the charm,” Xavier said as he finally mastered the art of loading a small cotton ball onto the spoon and launching it so it landed inside a targeted box.

Xavier’s grandmother, Bonnie Lynne, said she did not know what to expect, but she was pleasantly surprised by what she discovered at the nature center. She learned about the Mother Nature Festival in the newspaper.

Lynne and her family have lived in Lawrence for many years, and she is familiar with southern Lawrence Township, but she had never visited the nature center and did not know about it.

And that is exactly why the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center and Sustainable Lawrence hosted the Mother Nature Festival – to bring awareness of the Lawrence Nature Center to those who do not know about it.

“This is the jewel of Lawrence Township. We have this wonderful nature center to enjoy in south Lawrence,” Township Councilman Michael Powers said at the festival.

Lawrence Township bought the Rinck House and an adjacent 37-acre parcel that makes up the Lawrence Nature Center many years ago so the property would not be developed for housing, Powers said.

Meanwhile, visitors to the festival stopped at tables set up by the New Jersey Mycological Association (that’s mushrooms, for the uninitiated), as well as the Garden Gate Garden Club and Happy Herpetology.

At Sonja Michaluk’s Happy Herpetology table, visitors could learn about reptiles and amphibians – frogs, turtles and snakes. She reached in a glass fish tank and pulled out a baby northern ring neck snake to show to some children. Next to the fish tank there was a glass jar that was the temporary home of a tadpole, or baby frog.

One of the most popular exhibits was Eyes of the Wild, which is an exotic animal rescue group that brings some of its animals to show children and their parents. Most of the animals were acquired from people who thought they would make good pets, but who later discovered it was not such a good idea.

Travis Gale of Eyes of the Wild brought along several exotic animals – a porcupine from the rain forests of Central and South America, an alligator, a wallaby, and a Burmese albino python.

Gale explained that porcupines, such as Charlie, do not shoot their quills to injure other animals or people. Instead, a predator who tries to attack the porcupine ends up with many sharp quills embedded in its skin if it touches the porcupine.

The children were fascinated by Matilda, the wallaby, and the 4-month-old baby she carried in her pouch. Gale said a wallaby is much smaller than a kangaroo, which grows to be about 6 feet tall. A kangaroo can hop 30 to 40 feet, but a wallaby can only hop about 10 feet, he said.

Lawrence Nature Center supporters took time out toward the end of the festival to honor the late Barbara D. Wethe, who volunteered at the nature center for many years. She died late last year.

The supporters, many of whom were friendly with Wethe, planted three tiny evergreen trees in a small clearing at the nature center. They placed index cards with short messages about Wethe on one of the trees – “Warm and intelligent,” “Barbara Wethe equals a good friend” and “Barbara loved sharing her love of nature.”

And although the weather had been cloudy and cool all day, the sun broke through the clouds as Wethe’s friends put the finishing touches, the individual tributes to her, on the evergreen tree planted in her memory.

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