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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SAN LUIS NWRC: Hundreds of School Children Connect With Nature at the San Luis NWR, Thanks to a Grant Made Possible for “Connecting People With Nature”

Region 8, June 18, 2013
Pathways Trainee Madeline Yancey provides students visiting the San Luis NWR with an introductory presentation about the refuge and local wildlife.
Pathways Trainee Madeline Yancey provides students visiting the San Luis NWR with an introductory presentation about the refuge and local wildlife. - Photo Credit: n/a
A teacher from the Los Banos School District helps her students discover answers to a scavenger hunt activity inside the San Luis NWR visitor center exhibit hall.
A teacher from the Los Banos School District helps her students discover answers to a scavenger hunt activity inside the San Luis NWR visitor center exhibit hall. - Photo Credit: n/a
Outdoor Recreation Planner Jack Sparks uses an elk antler while narrating the unique story of California's Tule Elk.  After learning about the elk, the students embark on a
Outdoor Recreation Planner Jack Sparks uses an elk antler while narrating the unique story of California's Tule Elk. After learning about the elk, the students embark on a "safari" as the bus travels around the refuge's Tule Elk Auto Tour Route, which nearly always allows good views of the elk as well as other wildlife. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Madeline Yancey

When the staff of the San Luis NWR Complex, near Los Banos, Calif, learned their refuge was to be the recipient of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to build a long-awaited Visitor Center and Headquarters, complete with a large exhibit hall featuring an assortment of interpretive and educational displays, they eagerly worked on the project’s completion. They believed, “if we build it (the visitor center), they (the visitors) will come.”

Since the facility’s grand opening in 2011, visitors have been coming in increasing numbers, but one special group of visitors has been finding it difficult to make its way to the wonderful new facility – the local area’s public school children. Like all California school districts, the local district has had a tricky time making ends meet and school field trips have often been sacrificed in the budget-balancing process. The San Luis NWR, like most national wildlife refuges, is not located in a city or town, so most people must do some travelling to visit.

Last fall, the Complex jumped at the opportunity to assist Los Banos’ schools in getting their students to the refuge. The Complex successfully applied for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Connecting People With Nature (CPWN) regional funds, an initiative designed to – well – connect people with nature. Working with a local school district administrator, the Refuge used the funds to provide bus transportation for 16 field trips that brought more than 500 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade elementary school students, along with their teachers and parent chaperones, to the refuge for a day of getting outside and connecting with nature.

Beginning in late April 2013, and continuing through May, three or four classes each week were able to visit the San Luis NWR. Students began their day with a presentation and a refuge staff member teaching them about the refuge, its habitats, and why it exists. Then students got to explore the exhibit hall where they looked, touched, pushed, pulled, and listened to find the answers to an indoor “scavenger hunt” designed to get them to thoroughly investigate the displays.

After exploring the exhibit hall, students took a nature walk along a trail to a seasonal wetland during which they learned a little more about habitats found on the refuge and some of the wildlife and plants that live there. Students got to see a killdeer sitting on her nest and learned how she fakes a broken wing to lure predators away from her eggs. They saw, touched, and learned about many native plant elements of the refuge’s habitats and how they provide food, shelter, and cover for some of the wildlife species there. The students heard marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds making their territorial calls warning others to stay away. They saw a common moorhen and her brood of young swimming in the marsh and they watched barn swallows carry beaks full of cottonwood “fluff” to line the inside of their nests. They learned about adaptations that permit round-stem bulrush and cattail tules to grow with their roots in the water, and they watched Swainson’s hawks soar high above them while learning, “that bird flies all the way from South America to spend the summer and raise its young at the San Luis NWR.”

The excitement for the refuge’s young visitors was not over. After lunch, they loaded the bus and went on a “safari” around the 800-acre tule elk enclosure to see and learn about that special elk sub-species that only lives in California and nearly became extinct in the late 1800s. They learned about the human activities that imperiled the species’ survival and about the conservation efforts and the role the refuge plays in increasing the population.

Before refuge staff sent the bus and its passengers back to school, students were asked who had learned at least one new thing during their visit to the refuge. Almost without exception, students’ hands shot up indicating the youngsters attached to those hands had indeed learned at least one thing, and many were proud to volunteer that they had learned two or three. The field trips, made possible by the CPWN grant, exposed hundreds of children to the nature and wildlife living “in their own backyard.” So too, were dozens of grown-ups able to experience the natural resources San Luis NWR has to offer.

Madeline Yancey is a Pathways Student Trainee at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Los Banos, California.

 

 

 

Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov