Environmental Education Rides Again

By Kathy Freitas

After a two-year hiatus, the Refuge’s Environmental Education program (EE) for Pacific County 4th graders once again shined a light on the work of wildlife refuges, how we can all be stewards of our environment, and what fun it is to be out in the natural world as explorers and learners. This year, with the leadership of Hope Presley, Visitor Services Specialist, and Martha Williams, the Friends’ EE Coordinator, the program reached 115 students across three schools with an abbreviated but still impactful program.

Intrepid volunteers joined project leaders to guide small groups of students over the trail. Throughout the 20-year history of the Friends, the EE program has been its backbone and a priority, and the many volunteers have allowed it to continue.

I started my “career” with the Friends as an EE volunteer, new to the area and green as they come to hands-on environmental teaching. After nine years, I am still learning, not only from Refuge staff but in large part from the students. They never cease to amaze me and other volunteers. This year, veteran EE volunteer, Rose Power, said a boy in her group spotted deer tracks in the soft mud and explained to the group how he could tell they were made by a buck and not a doe. “What a star,” she said. “It totally made my day!”

Another longtime volunteer, Deb Jennings, reflected that when the kids arrive at the trail at Tarlatt Slough they expect to see large animals (including Sasquatch!) and plants, like Venus fly traps. But at the end, they can name native trees and plants, pinecones, and insects and feeling quite proud of themselves.

Brand new volunteer, Betsy Pfannenstiel, loved seeing the everything-is-connected concept through the eyes of the kids. She said, “Their energetic excitement is palpable. I love this program and wish it was year-round.”

In my group, a super enthusiastic young man was bound and determined to find a salamander, and he overturned nearly every rock and piece of fallen wood on the trail. We never did see a salamander, but the tree frogs, baby garter snake, coyote scat, and tadpoles helped put a broad smile on his face as he climbed back on the bus at the end of the field trip.

Refuge staff and volunteers may shepherd the EE program, but in the end, the kids are always the stars!

A few enthusiastic Refuge staff engaged the kids in the wonders of estuary mud and microscopic samples from a freshwater pond. 

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