Salmon spawning season is one of my favorite times of the year because it’s when many of our customized field trips take place. This year was no exception. Our field trips this year accommodated students as young as preschool age all the way up to high school students. As you might imagine, this makes for a wide variety of field trip approaches.
Our youngest visitors came as a large group of 45 children aged 2.5 to 5 years-old each with an attendant adult. Because 90+ people, plus our Foundation volunteers is way too many people to manage on the Big Tree trail, we divided them into three groups. One group hiked out to Big Tree, while another group visited the confluence and watched the salmon choosing which stream they should swim up to spawn. The last group spent time in the pavilion listening to age-appropriate books and working on coloring sheets. Each of the groups cycled through the three activities.
We deliberately included the pavilion time so these young visitors would have a quiet activity to rest from the exercise of exploring the Preserve. Despite a few tears and complaints from tired youngsters going back up the trail at the end of the field trip, we received rave reviews and they are hoping to make it an annual event in the future. This is something that we love to hear. By introducing little people to the joys of nature, we’re building future conservationists and environmentalists.
We also enjoyed working with the third-grade class that came from Bainbridge Island for a field trip. This class asked for a salmon expert, so we invited a salmon docent to join us and talk to the kids about salmon and how they use our waterways. This class was so well versed in salmon that it really kept the docent on her toes. The students were awestruck by the spectacle of the salmon spawning. It’s nothing short of delightful to hear a nine-year-old describing the sight as a “once in a lifetime experience.”
However, not all of our field trips are for school groups. One of our field trips this year was a Girl Scout troop with participants ages 6 to 14. In addition to seeing the salmon spawning, we worked with the girls to help them learn to recognize trees by the bark. This was chosen as an activity that would not only help the girls earn their naturalist patches but would also be one that would be engaging for all the girls. The girls also enjoyed the hike. One of the girls informed me that she really loved hiking and that the outing was the third hike that she’d been on. It was wonderful to be able to foster her newly discovered love of being out in nature and traveling on her own two feet.
Our high school field trips this year were designed through a collaboration with Kitsap County. The students visited the Preserve to see what a true natural forest looks like, including old growth stands, then went on to visit Chico Salmon Park to observe the restoration and how it is progressing. In some ways, I think high school field trips are my favorites. High School students often want to appear unimpressed by things, but they can’t help but be awed by the Preserve.
We love being part of these sorts of partnerships. It gives the students a richer understanding of the environment and how the things we do impact it. I especially enjoyed what one of the high school students said as we were making our way down the trail. As we were getting close to Big Tree he said to a friend, “I think there’s supposed to be a big, Whoa!” as they actually caught sight of Big Tree. Somehow being out in nature has a way of breaking through the “too cool for school” demeanor and can restore a high school student’s wonder of the world.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed these glimpses into our customized field trips and the impact that they have. Remember, we’ll do field trips any time of the year and they can be customized to any age, including adults, so please reach out if interested.
– Katha Miller-Winder, Education Committee