A few thousand people congregated on Belle Isle Sunday to learn more about nature, a broad subject that includes snake poop.

The 17th-annual, kid-friendly, s'mores-optional Shiver on the River took place at half a dozen venues, from the casino near the west end of the park to the nature center near the east.

While attendance seemed perhaps slightly down from previous years, according to operations director Tricia Blicharski of the sponsoring Friends of the Detroit River, there were ample amounts of mirth and information.

She was tending to things at the casino, which served as the nominal headquarters with a magician, caricature artist, 20 assorted exhibits and a snack bar called Cafe Ptomaine. The point of it all, she said, was to introduce children to the importance of ecology and the environment in a setting that radiated fun and included a display called "What scat is that?"

The scale scat models beneath a large clear cube included mule deer poop, which looks something like those candied almonds you buy but never finish at the mall, and white-tailed deer poop, which is pretty much the same but darker.

As for snake poop, 6-year-old Anne Johnson of Warren declared that it "looks just like a snake!" — which it did, come to think of it, if there's a snake that's long, skinny and pale gray.

At an art project booth not far from the cube, Dallas Morrow, 4, of Novi had constructed a multicolored cardboard fish. She was giddily dancing around her mom, Danielle Jackson, while Jackson tried to help her decide on a name for it.

"Toilet," Dallas suggested, and Jackson shook her head. "Nobody," Dallas said. "Northy."

Finally they decided on "Olivia," and set off for more adventures.

Among the possibilities was a simulated ice rescue at the Coast Guard station. The Belle Isle Aquarium was offering make-your-own s'mores for $2 over wood-burning fire pits.

Admission to all the buildings was free, as was the inspiration.

"I love this event," said Lisa Perez, the Detroit urban connections coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service. "There's time to really engage with people."

She was recruiting Junior Snow Rangers, which meant she was helping kids take a test that matched tracks with the animals that made them.

At larger, more bustling gatherings, she said, visitors tend to hustle on past. At Shiver on the River, they were stopping to smell the roses. Or the snake poop, but as long as they were giggling, it was all the same.

Twitter: nealrubin_dn

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