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City kids get back to nature Jon Campbell | Fri, Jun 25 2010 01:51 PM

Six-year-old Kyle Imogo scoffs at the idea that he may have been in danger on Tuesday, even as he fed lettuce to a sea turtle that outweighed him by at least 50 pounds.

"We were just, like, we had to toss it to him, we weren't, like, putting our hand in front of him," said Kyle. "Besides," he said, "that turtle's trained."

Kyle and the other kids attending the Chula Vista Nature Center's new summer camp program may not be risking fingers during their close encounters with the center's menagerie, but they have certainly been getting VIP treatment.

A group of about eight children were taken behind the scenes on Tuesday, past buckets of raw fish and troughs filled with anemones and sea cucumbers, for a chance to get up close and personal with green sea turtles. The species, an endangered resident of San Diego Bay, is one of the stars of the Nature Center's collection. Campers had a chance not only to toss lettuce to the lethargic giants, but to touch their shells and flippers and get splashed by them a bit as well.

The center's day camps, which will run through the end of the summer and represent a new venture for the Nature Center, are designed to educate kids about the natural world around them, said Wendy Spaulding, director of education and guest experiences. Since many of the animals at the center are native to Chula Vista and its environs, Spaulding said the hope was to see kids connect with the world in their own back yards.

"It's another opportunity to get kids connected with nature and wildlife. Kids are very disconnected from nature these days and we have a lot to offer here at the Nature Center, but have never done this sort of program," said Spaulding. She said some of the fun is being able to see another side of the center that regular visitors don't normally have access to.

"The general public can't just come and touch a baby turtle or go in and feed an adult turtle, so this is a special opportunity for them," said Spaulding.

The camps are intended to be fun, of course, but they can also be an educational stop gap to summer brain drain.

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