Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Interior Department, announced a national initiative earlier this year to engage and inspire young people to connect to nature. She confirmed her commitment to “welcome a new generation of young people into public land stewardship, into science”.
The Pacific Northwest Region of the Service provided a little funding in “mini-grants” to help deliver on this promise. So, we partnered with Vancouver Housing Authority Community Family Resource Coordinator Sharon Linn and Skyline Crest Community Health and Wellness Advisor Sara Angelo to help connect underserved inner city kids to nature.
Our “Take Time to Connect to Nature” project aims to add an innovative component to an inner city low income housing facility by providing hands-on and in the field nature experiences. Using a nearby neighborhood greenspace and field trips to other Pacific Northwest destinations, mentors and volunteers lead youth groups in activities such as a FWS hatchery visit and guided nature bike rides or hikes. The project is a great collaboration – New Season’s grocery store even teamed up to help provide the kids with healthy, delicious lunches on some of the field trips!
In early July, 20 Skyline Crest youth from ages 7 to 15 came to a three-hour Nature Day at our Columbia River Fisheries Program Office. Ten of our staff members led the kids through a variety of activities to give them hands-on experience with nature, native species, and scientific methods.
We were impressed and inspired by how much fun the kids had learning about salmon, owls, and radio telemetry. They showed so much natural curiosity and a love of science….they had a blast picking out rodent bones from barn owl pellets and dissecting big spring chinook salmon!
They grasped the salmon life cycle, from freshwater to ocean and back again, and made bracelets with various beads representing each life stage. Creativity and artistic flourish were present as they made “gyotaku” Japanese-style fish art prints to take home.
The day really underscored that every child is a naturalist…given the opportunity, time and access to the natural world they will apply curious and creative minds to interact with and explore nature. Who knows what effect these early experiences might have or where they might lead a child to later in life …our job is to make the connection so they have the opportunity to forge their own path.
Submitted by Amy Horstman and Donna Allard