A mother’s shriek broke the pleasant calm of an early afternoon hike Saturday in Cheyenne Mountain Stake Park. Some people gawked.

“Amazing finding a big snake like that in the wild,” Todd Seidenberg said.

“Unreal,” said his wife, Melissa Seidenberg, while cracking a smile.

In fact, it proved to be just that – a plastic rattlesnake placed along Acorn Alley trail by one of the park’s naturalists. The reason: Teach the next batch of Junior Rangers how best to handle the park’s three most dangerous predators.

Unlike some parents walking behind, most of the children did just fine.

“How many of us walked right by it and didn’t even see him?” asked Kris Baril, a park naturalist.

The walk marked the park’s last Junior Ranger class of the summer – a program aimed to teach children about wildlife at the park, and how best to appreciate it while still being safe. Past classes included a first-aid course and a session on birds found in the park, which is across from Fort Carson’s main gate on Colo. 115, south of Academy Boulevard.

“All of (the classes) are designed for them to get an understanding of one aspect of what rangers do,” Baril said.

Using stuffed animals, a foam archery set and tongs used to handle rattlesnakes, Baril focused on the essentials. She explained the importance of storing food properly in campsites to keep bears from visiting, and the need to make loud noises and avoid eye contact while appearing as big as possible should one stop by.

She described the necessity to fight should a mountain lion approach. Never run, she said, but pick up rocks and maintain eye contact while facing the big cat.

Not surprisingly, she said, rattlesnakes are be left to themselves. They prefer to watch people walk by, but could strike if they are approached and feel threatened.

Other parks offer similar programs, each being unique to the park. And the nine children at the Saturday event either earned a pin or a badge for their work.

“It was really cool,” said the Seidenberg’s 6-year-old son, Braeden.

But first, they faced their final test. This time, a man acting like a bear came roaring out of bushes further down the trail.

More people screamed. At least one parent jumped. Then everyone purposefully made loud houses, just as Baril instructed.

When the excitement was over, the Junior Rangers wanted more.

“We have to find a mountain lion,” one girl said.

“I’ll tell you right now, I don’t have any mountain lions out there,” Baril replied.

“That’s OK,” a parent said.

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