WildHeart to perform at Family Fun Fest, connecting children, nature

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 6:47 p.m. CDT; updated 7:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 14, 2011

COLUMBIA — In her younger years, it was natural for Jan Syrigos to spend time outdoors. It afforded a sense of freedom and connection with nature that she wants to pass on to a new generation.

She says the culture these days, which puts an emphasis on safety, is distancing children from nature, and she’s doing her part to make a difference.

Syrigos and her husband, George, have combined their expertise as naturalists and musicians to share their passion. Known as WildHeart, the couple will be using music to explore wildlife and natural history at Family Fun Fest from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in Flat Branch Park.

WildHeart, which won a regional Emmy Award in 2002 for children’s television programming, is giving the feature performance at this month’s Fun Fest, named “Explore Outdoors.”

Jan and George Syrigos graduated in the early 1980s from MU with majors in forestry and fish and wildlife management, respectively. They started WildHeart about 13 years ago while working as naturalists at the Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City.

The Missouri Arts Council named WildHeart a Missouri Touring Performer in 2009. Assistant Director Michael Donovan said the program aims to bring Missouri-based performers to communities that wouldn’t normally be able to access them.

The council has designated 106 performers and will add more this year, Donovan said.

WildHeart recently performed at a community library in Maryville, Ill. Heather Watkins, youth services coordinator there, said the show went over well with the children who attended.

“They are so energetic, and they’re such nice people. The kids love it,” she said.

She said the library plans to invite the group to return next year.

The Columbia Family Fun Fest, organized by the city Parks and Recreation Department, will host booths from the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri River Relief, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Columbia Public Works, Parks and Recreation’s Columbia Aquatic Restoration Project, Bass Pro Shops and other organizations.

Other activities will include a bounce house, face painting, a balloon artist and games.

This spring marks the third year of the free Family Fun Fests. They are held monthly from April to September at Flat Branch Park. City Recreation Specialist Erin Carrillo said about 1,000 people come to each event. Next month’s Family Fun Fest will be held on July 20.

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