LAWTON, Okla. (AP) — Fresh off their state-mandated tests, hundreds of fourth graders traded in books and air conditioning for hands-on activities and the great outdoors at the 14th annual Natural Resources Journey.

The secluded Natural Resources Journey area alongside Quanah Parker Lake was filled with eager children fresh off a collection of buses. They were the first group of more than 700 students from 12 schools from across Comanche County who participated in the outdoor event through May 4, the Lawton Constitution reported . D'Anna Laminack, acting visitor services manager, said the event is aimed at getting kids out into the environment, where they can gain a better appreciation of their natural surroundings.

"We expose them to water pollution, dairy products, wildlife and things like that in an attempt to spark their interest," she said.

The journey included nine stations, which the students rotated through from the time they arrived in the morning through the early afternoon, with a pause for a lunch break enjoyed outside. Overcast skies and a cool breeze provided a pleasant morning for the students to learn from the Oklahoma State University Extension office, USDA, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conversation and the Apache Rattlesnake Festival. Rangers with the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge were also on-hand at certain stations to talk about water safety, conservation and the threat of wildfires. Students will leave with memories that stay with them well into adulthood, just like Freedom Elementary teacher Jordan McKesson.

"This is the first time I've come out here with students, but it's not the first time I've gone through it," she said. "I went through this when I was a student. So it's cool to see them going through the same experience that I had when I was their age."

Conner McKenzie, a fourth grade student at John Adams Elementary, said even having only participated in the first half of the journey, he had gained a better understanding and respect for Mother Nature.

"I think it's really cool," he said. "It makes you want to help out the environment and animals and do more for them."

The young student ultimately looked at the scale neighborhood dealing with water issues in the back of a trailer sponsored by Comanche County Conservation as his favorite part of the journey. Students watched as the miniature homes built upon a bed of sand and dirt were affected by streams and rivers formed when water is circulated through the trailer. McKenzie didn't realize how much power water had. He said it was a fun day to begin the last few weeks of school left before summer break.

"That was really stunning," he said. "It feels really good to come out here. You get to learn a whole lot of stuff and there's no more tests."

Many students felt their skin crawl a little when they visited the station set up by the Apache Rattlesnake Festival. Dennis Crow was prepared with both venomous and non-venomous snakes to both frighten and educate children about the nature of the legless reptiles. While many were taken back by the snakes, Chattanooga teacher Christie Garza was more than happy to wear one around her neck and smile. The other students weren't so easy-going about the snakes. Carmeone Rucker, a fourth grader from John Adams, had fun at the refuge. She said she had come out before with her family, but this was the first time that she had a chance to learn more about the environment and to take in her natural surroundings.

"I've never been able to experience the refuge like this before," Rucker said. "I really enjoyed one of the stations where we used popsicle sticks to learn different categories." After spending half the day at the refuge at the Natural Resources Journey, the fourth grade student said she can't wait to come back. It would be even better if she could come back with her classmates. "Instead of spending the day working, we get to come out here and hang out with nature and play with all these activities," Rucker said. "I get to go back to class and I don't have to complain about anything."

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com