Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Fishing Day for All

Group photo - United Cerebral Palsy & U.S. Fish & Wildlife employees.
Credit: Little White Salmon NFH
You may recall my blog from about two months ago where I focused on the theme of mobilizing nature. I was fascinated then by a group of nature enthused senior citizens, and earlier this month had the chance to experience that feeling all over again.  As part of an initiative to provide all people with the opportunity to connect with nature, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is constantly seeking opportunities to improve accessibility and assure that folks of all shapes, sizes and abilities can visit our facilities. Most recently, Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery (NFH) went above and beyond this initiative and created an accessible Fishing Platform. This platform allows people with disabilities and the elderly easy access to fish on Drano Lake, one of the most popular fishing areas on the mid-Columbia River!

Everyone excited to get started with their
fishing day!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

"No Excuse" Nature
With some of the barriers on fishing in the Pacific Northwest, such as rocky, hilly shores or inaccessible boats, it can typically be a bit difficult for persons who need a little extra help getting mobile to experience the excitement of fishing. The new ramp at Little White Salmon NFH not only offers easy access to this fun sport or pastime, but provides a relaxing and unique fishing spot that everyone can use. Most importantly, this ramp is just one of many examples of my "no excuse" policy to getting outside!  

Mobilizing Nature, Part 2
Much like the ladies from Oatfield Estates, this group from United CerebralPalsy of Oregon & Southwest Washington came out to Little White Salmon NFH full of enthusiasm. Excited to test out the new fishing platform, thoughts of physical barriers and challenges were left behind. It was a cloudless, sunny day and the group was eager to get down to the shore and set up their fishing poles. A handful of Service employees were in attendance, joyfully helping to bait and cast fishing poles while keeping an eye out for any bites. For some of the group, it was their first time fishing, but they spent the afternoon out on the shore like old pros.

USFWS Deputy Regional Director, Richard Hannan,
getting the pole all set up for one of our fisherman!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
More Than Just Fishing
Followed by our afternoon fishing adventure, we took a tour of the fish hatchery, and a view of the annual spring Chinook salmon spawning. We also went underground to the fish holding tank viewing windows. Here, we were introduced to some of the larger fish about to be spawned, but spotted a few “jacks.” These are smaller, but fully grown fish who return to their native streams earlier than other salmon, which is the reason for their smaller size. Faces were aglow as fish about half our size sped past the viewing windows. The day closed out with a picnic in the sun and a feast of delicious, juicy watermelon given to us by our guests! Though attendees at this fishing event (myself included), probably got their fill of salmon for the day, I am sure a return trip will be in order in the very near future.

For more detailed information on the Fishing Platform at Little White Salmon NFH, visit their webpage and "like" them on Facebook! You can also visit the Facebook page of United Cerebral Palsy!

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Facebook of Nature

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”- Marshall McLuhan

If you’ve been following my journey this summer, you should be ready right now to read another blog about one of my outdoor adventures with U.S. Fish & Wildlife. This blog entry was slotted to talk about my time at the Girl Scout 100th Anniversary Celebration at the Linn County Expo Center a couple of weeks ago, but I thought to myself “we spent the day inside!”

(Please do come check out our photos from this event, though!)

Using social media (and candy) to connect people
to nature.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
I wanted to find a creative “get outdoors” spin on this day and then it hit me. My day at our USFWS booth was spent handing out lollipops (that had stickers encouraging these lollipop eaters to “like” us on Facebook) and tweeting to Girl Scouts (@GirlScoutsOSW) about The Service’s booth and Luna the Lamprey. I spent my day connected on a tiny handheld computer, right? This is exactly what I should be discouraging on my blog, right? Or is it?

The tweeting was successful; it helped us spread the word about our booth in real time to a present audience. And by the sheer number of tweets coming through on the giant screen at the front of the room – these girl scouts were no strangers to technology. So now we face the common problem – youth, plugged-in to technology. If we can’t pull them away from it to the outdoors, why not push them through it?

An example of one way to use
 technology in nature.
Credit: Kayak Everywhere
Take it with you
As a scholar of Communication, with an emphasis on (and major supporter of) new and social media, you might find it somewhat ironic that I work each day to connect people with nature. We should all be familiar by now with the idea that technology is one main culprit of “nature deficit disorder,” but should we blame computers for our, and our children’s lack of outdoor activity? I say – no. We have this vast amount of technology at our fingertips each day, and there is no rule, anywhere, that says we have to sit inside of a dark room to use them. As I watch technology continue to progress, and continue to become increasingly available in schools, libraries and homes, I have to take this opportunity to give everyone some encouragement on how to utilize those iPads, smartphones, laptops, digital cameras, and even video games, yes video games, to our advantage - outside!

Five Ways to “Connect” with Nature.
Here I offer you a few of my personal favorite new media tools to take with you outdoors!

The virtual "Great Outdoors" badge,
won on Foursquare after checking-in
to numerous outdoor recreation spots.
Foursquare – This is one of the most successful current smart phone apps, and while it is typically used as a “check-in” service for nearby businesses (using a phone’s GPS it locates where you are, giving you the option to “check-in,” leave tips, take photos, share with friends, and compete for points and “mayorships” for those who visit a location the most), people may not think about checking-in to their favorite local trail, or even your own backyard. The icon to the right is the “Great Outdoors” badge. I earned this a few weeks ago after checking-in to Multnomah Falls. I am now the most outdoorsy of my Foursquare friends; nothing like a little nature competition facilitated by my smartphone.

Using GPS apps to track trail hikes, runs
or bikes!
Credit: DK Limke
Nike+ App – This free app works on both smartphones and iPods. While it is usually used to track runs, I find it much more exciting to take out on a hike. Using GPS navigation, it tracks distance and time and can even show a map of your path, which can all be stored and shared on virtual places like Facebook and Twitter. Encourage yourself with this app to hike a new trail once a week (or more!). Before you know it, you’ll have one big map showing all of the trails you’ve hiked. Bragging rights!

“Get Your Nature On” – This is a Facebook app from the Outdoor Alliance for Kids organization. After connecting to this app through a personal Facebook account, users are encouraged to get outdoors and upon arriving home share their experience, photos, and videos. Each activity earns you points and badges for being an awesome outdoor adventurer. You can even apply what you’ve done to the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. This is a note I received upon logging in after an adventure: You’re back! How was it? You look happier and healthier already…one of the best results of fun outdoor activities. Can’t wait to hear about your experience- describe it below, hit “claim” to post to your Facebook page and get closer to your next badge!”

Nature Field Guides – Did you know there are endless field guide apps available for smartphones, iPads, and iPods? The Audubon Society has a field guide app for almost every aspect of nature you can think of. Note: most of these apps are not free, but think of them as buying paper field guides version 2.0, or simply do a search for similar, free guides. Take your phones outside and discover new birds, learn to fly fish, or go hunting for rocks! Whatever aspect of nature is your favorite – search your app store and enhance your experience outdoors!

Screen shot of the free Project Noah
mobile phone app.
Outdoor Mobile Games – These apps help turn outdoor exploration into a real-life video game. Explorence is one start-up outdoor mobile app company whose free game “Street Dash” uses virtual maps and GPS to show hidden coins, prizes, and other competitors hiding around outside that you can run, walk, bike, skate or skip to! Project Noah is a similar free app that requires you to take photos of animals you see outside. These are then stored with facts, date and location. What you end up with is a collection of all of the animals you have seen --- sounds a little bit like real life Pok√©mon, doesn’t it?

The best of both worlds, balancing
technology and nature.

Credit: Sean Dreilinger
The Future Outdoors
These are only a few examples of ways to utilize these tools to our outdoor advantage. New apps and programs are always popping up; it just takes a little creative searching. I hope this made a convincing argument in favor of computers, technology and social media. Just remember – you don’t need to completely take the technology away from children to increase their outdoor activity, you just need to instill in them how much fun they can have with their tech-toys in the great outdoors! If we keep up this practice, we might see a full circle return to the outdoors, but this time equipped with the tools that, when used properly, enhance our experiences like never before! And always remember - nothing quite beats that feeling of being outside and unplugged. Getting out there is the first step; the rest... will come naturally!

If you know of any other ways to connect technology and social media with nature, or want to share your favorites, please let us know!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Day in the Life of Tualatin River Refuge….making yesterday’s vision today’s reality.

Kim gives a tour of the refuge to two of the many visitors who stop by
each day.
Credit: Tualatin River NWR

An entry from guest blogger Kim Strassburg, Visitor Services Manager at Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

The dream of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge becoming an urban refuge has been etched in people’s minds for over 20 years. Sometimes I forget to stop and remember where we started and the hopes we had.  But as I reflect on what I have seen and experienced the last two days, I know the refuge has arrived.

Let me share the vision of what was happening – ALL simultaneously in one morning - as I was running around with Gardiner, our Education Coordinator, taking photos of groups from our community connecting with nature on our refuge: 

Art Camper photography.
Credit: Tualatin River NWR
  • A group of 8-10 year old “Art Campers” working on nature photography projects in the Environmental Education Shelter.
  • An entry-level Portland Community College conservation biology class exploring the refuge trails. They later returned to the Wildlife Center for an hour-long Q&A with staff to ask about wildlife management, and how to prepare for careers in conservation.
Recycled Art Day
Credit: Tualatin River
  • A group of elders from Vintage Place assisted living home watching a nature video in the Riparian Room. Afterwards, they fearlessly wheeled themselves within the group of college students and joined the conversation.
  • Three separate Kindercare pre-school groups doing crafts in the Discovery Classroom and exploring the trails.
  • A dozen volunteers at an “Extended Learning” session, led by a guest speaker, who taught about Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science program called eBird.
  • Volunteers greeting families in the Wildlife Center while also helping parents of young children choose some good books from Nature’s Overlook store.
  • Volunteers brainstorming about new "photo flipbook" that would highlight the seasons of the refuge and what plants, animals and water levels that visitors would expect to see
  • A few volunteers weeding the bioswale, followed by a group from another assisted living care center enjoying the sun and the view at the bioswale overlook.
  • A group of 10 teens from a North Portland Youth Employment Institute program called Urban Rangers exploring the trails with a Volunteer Naturalist.
  • The refuge Biological Technician planning an invasive species awareness exhibit for our trailheads. 
Sunny day for seniors.
Credit: Tualatin River NWR
  • A small committee from a nearby 55+ community visiting the refuge to learn about native and water-wise gardening in order to re-landscape their complex
  • Friends education staff scheduling teacher workshops with our partners
  • A stack of 200 handmade invitations for our upcoming volunteer appreciation party. 
  • And education staff sharing lunch and planning the next adventures.

Tomorrow, we are off to the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts of Oregon celebration in Albany where 6,000 girl scouts and families are expected to attend.

Volunteers and visitors.
Credit: Tualatin River NWR
But for now, I am off to a Urban Refuge Initiative vision team conference call.  We will be discussing creating standards of excellence in urban refuges.......I am on a development/writing team for's heady stuff.

Then it’s back to my office to do payroll, complete lengthy reports, balance credit cards, write conservation planning material, call the fire monitoring company, submit water quality samples to a lab, file safety plan paperwork, and clean my office..........not nearly as fun, though I am happy to do the "backstage work" to support the good stuff.  
WOW! I just cannot imagine this refuge without our volunteers, our Friends group, refuge staff, our Friends grant-funded staff, and our community. Without them, we would not have made yesterday’s vision today’s reality.  I am proud, overwhelmed, humbled, and in awe of everyone who makes it all happen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Seven Generations Ahead

It’s summertime and camps are in full swing. Whatever your child’s interest, there seems to be a summer camp for it; art, music, adventure, sports -- you name it. But, did you know that the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) host a tuition-free Salmon Camp each year for 5th-7th grade Tribal youth? Each year, CRITFC works with different partners to put on the camp, this year working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla IndianReservation. This project is also part of our U.S. Fish & Wildlife Connecting People with Nature project set, supported by an internal grant from the National Conservation Training Center!

The whole group after a long day's hike!
Credit: Zach Wong/CRITFC

Unique Summer Camping
Each year, Tribal students from the Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes apply for one of twenty spots in the camp. The students are selected based upon academic performance and personal essays about why they want to attend Salmon Camp. If selected, the campers spend a week learning about the cultural and ecological importance of salmon, and participating in different activities intended to foster their love and appreciation for not just salmon, but nature as a whole. 

Spotted a bear up on the hill.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Focusing on the Land
During the second week of August, 2012, nine boys and eleven girls started their week at Tribal salmon camp. By day two, I made it out to spend a couple of days with them. One of the most exciting aspects of the camp was its location; deep in the heart of the Umatilla National Forest, that could only be navigated to via longitudinal coordinates. This allowed us to break completely free of the surrounding technologically-connected world and focus all of our energy on the land around us.

A happy camper working on her very first tule mat.
Credit: Marty Perez/CRITFC

Fun with Tradition
When I first arrived, the campers had just finished dinner and were working on an arts and crafts project. They were constructing something from sticks gathered from around the campsite, and a collection of soft, beige stick-like rods which I later learned were called tule. It turns out, what they were crafting were Tule mats, traditionally used for various tribal ceremonies and tasks. As the children threaded pieces of tule together with colorful yarns, camp co-coordinator, Wenix, explained the cultural history of tule mats for their tribes. She shared with the campers, most of whom had never made a tule mat before, that their first mat had to be given to a Tribal elder as a gift. Choosing an elder who is especially skilled at that craft assured those skills would be passed down. Chatter rolled across the cabin as campers started sharing stories about family members they would gift their tule mats to.

Each night, campers helped start our campfire.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
After crafts were over, we headed down towards the nearby river for a nighttime campfire. Here, Wenix told the story of First Foods, reflecting on important Tribal foods from the land, like salmon, and the preservation of these foods for seven generations ahead. “We should always be thinking about our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren – seven generations!” Wenix shared enthusiastically. Roasted marshmallows and a round of the campfire sing-a-long “Boom Chicka Boom” closed out the night.

Up close with a Pacific lamprey ammocoete!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Fishing, Netting, and River Ecology
My second day at camp was full of guest speakers and rotating activities. We energized first with a fresh breakfast of potatoes, eggs, yogurt, fruit and toast made by our camp chef, Sean. Our first activity for the day was a visit with lamprey biologists who brought along some juvenile Pacific lamprey, called ammocoetes. The campers were fascinated by the tiny worm-like fish and even more fascinated to learn how important these fish are to salmon, Tribal culture, and river ecology. 

Learning how to make hand-crafted dipnets
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Next, we stepped down to the river where we learned about electro-fishing before moving further downstream to talk about riparian zones and salmon spawning. We then traveled back to the main cabin for more arts and crafts. This time, the campers created models of watersheds using crumpled construction paper and colored markers to predict where water, grass, trees, rock and more would appear on their mock landscapes. Their models were then sprayed with water and later covered in Pop Rocks to simulate potential pathways of water and pollution. Our last activity connected us with a Tribal dip-netter who gave us a lesson about using dip nets to catch fish and the importance of Tribal fishing areas. The campers were then given the chance to test their skills at hand-crafting a dip net. 

Writing about the day's activities
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

Learning and Journaling
The campers closed out their evening with a “silent write,” where they spent some quiet time working on journals and posters. These gave the campers an opportunity each night to write and draw about their daily activities, what they learned, and what they hoped to learn at salmon camp. The posters and journals were presented at the end of camp to other campers and visiting Tribal members and workers. Another delicious dinner concluded and we headed back down for a nighttime campfire. This night, we took our marshmallows a step further and indulged in S’mores before recognizing the day’s most hardworking campers. As the fire burned out, I traveled back to our cabin to close out my last night at camp.

A display of some items for a traditional
Tribal First Foods Feast
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Hiking Towards a First Food Feast
The following day, the campers would summit one of the local Wallowa Mountains and end the week with a traditional First Food Feast joined by elders from their tribes. I was saddened to miss what might have been the best part of salmon camp, but I left feeling more cultured, educated and welcomed than ever before! I knew I had attended a successful Salmon Camp having returned home with an expansive new knowledge and appreciation for Tribal culture and nature alike. I am confident the campers arrived home at the end of the week feeling full of knowledge and appreciation for salmon and the legacy of their heritage. 

You can check out the entire photoset from Tribal Salmon Camp over at our CPWN Facebook page, and if you like the photos, make sure to "like" our page as well!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Naturally Playful

Natural play, exploration and classroom oriented spaces are popping up around the globe as means to better connect children to nature in early stages of life. Taking away the plastic slides and swing sets and replacing them with natural play equipment like tree logs and dirt, help bring nature directly into a staple activity for children! What better way to provide young children with the skills and love for nature within a safe and fun environment? Recently, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge opened up their very own Nature Explore Area where children can come to get their hands dirty and experience nature all in the name of playtime!

Preparing for a Playful Crowd
A couple weeks back, I attended a volunteer work party at the refuge to help with some clean-up of the Nature Explore Area. While weeding along the area’s dirt pathway, I got a chance to speak with some of the workers and volunteers at the refuge about the different aspects of the area. There was space for art, music, performance, building, climbing, crawling, and of course – getting dirty!

An Outdoor Space to be a Kid
As I took a tour of the area with Visitor Services Manager, Sheila McCartan, she explained the purpose of each of the areas. In the art area, visitors are encouraged to get creative with natural materials stocked directly from the refuge. The music and movement area offers instruments made of natural materials and a stage for visitors to perform. Sheila made note that this area was a favorite of parent visitors who could frequently be seen acting out performances with or without their children (you’re never too old to be a kid outside!). Other structures encouraged kids to dig in the dirt and climb on tree stumps and trunks, while a natural tree house allowed children to build and decorate a tree fort with some provided colorful cloths.

Not Your Standard Playground
Overall, this Nature Explore Area aims to offer visitors to the refuge an alternative to a typical playground. Making a connection between nature and play within young children is sure to help them better develop skills to explore nature as they grow, as well as build and foster the kind of love and excitement for nature needed for future conservation. But most of all – here kids can have just as much, if not much more, fun during playtime than on what is typically thought to be the standard “playground.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Nature of 100

Troop 42135 and leader, Julie Concannon hudle around a
giant redwood in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
This year, the Girl Scouts of the USA have reached their 100th anniversary! In support of this exciting event, I got to join along on a California/Oregon Coast camping trip with Troop 42135 of the Girls Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington. As one of our Connecting People with Nature projects, the girls partnered with U.S. Fish & Wildlife to turn their 100-year celebration into a nature adventure! Through the theme of “The Nature of 100,” we spent a week along the coast searching for the number 100 in nature. This seemed difficult at first, but when we put our heads together, we were amazed at how easy it was to connect a little bit of math with Mother Earth!

On Boy Scout Tree Trail amongst the gigantic redwoods.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
100 Foot Trees
Our trip began in Crescent City, California just outside of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We spent two nights on a local camp ground where we set up tents, cooked, cleaned and enjoyed nighttime campfires. The girls took turns with chores and cooking and surprised me when they jumped at the chance to chop firewood (with an axe that was almost as big as they were). Our first venture from the campground took us to the Redwood Forest where we braved a 6 mile trail loop ironically titled Boy Scout Tree Trail. You can probably guess that we unofficially changed the trail’s name to “Girl Scout Tree Trail” for the day. Along the trail we counted out 100 centipedes (A double whammy for our theme! Do you know why?) and photographed the 100th. We paused to look at ferns in search of 100 leaves, and I can also guarantee we saw over 100 Redwoods breaking 100 feet in height!

100 Creatures on the Shore
Elise finds a hermet crab while tide pooling.
"Somebody's home!" she says as a tiny crab
peeks his head out of his shell.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Day three took us out of the forest and down to the ocean to tide pool nearby Battery Point Lighthouse. We stumbled upon hundreds of crabs, starfish and patches of seaweed. This day we also celebrated the 13th birthday of one of the troop, Mackenzie. After a stop for ice cream cake, our troop leader Julie enticed us with the promise of a secret spot to watch hundreds of pinnipeds. We all agreed that this seemed like a good place for birthday cake! This secret spot, for those of you who have spent more than enough time as tourists at the Sea Lion Caves was a small overlook, part of the USFWS Oregon Coast National Wildlife Complex. After taking turns naming different types of pinnipeds we headed up the coast to Bandon, Oregon where we set up shop at our new campground, cooked lasagna in a Dutch oven and crowded into a cozy cabin.

This crab is showing off his "face of nature" for the paparazzi.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

100 Seashells
Our last day began with a delicious pancake breakfast, picnic style, courtesy of KOA. After we filled our bellies, we headed up to the amazingly beautiful shores of Coquille Point, another USFWS Coastal Refuge. Here, we spent some more time tide pooling before an exciting beach quest for 100 seashells. During the quest we also spotted hundreds of sea anemones, bright purple and green in color, sized as small as a quarter, to wide-open and as large as a softball!

Anna & Reilly found interest in some of the washed up
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Our long journey north along the historic Highway 101 took a pit stop at The Washed Ashore Project. This creative and inspiring team collects, and encourages members of the public to collect, washed up beach debris to shape into amazing pieces of art. Flip-flops, bottle caps, water bottles and much more are here turned into giant jelly fish, toy snakes and a giant eagle (which currently works as an inviting landmark to the art studio along 101). They even had some pieces of debris which were determined to have washed up from last year's Japanese tsunami. One of the troop, Jeanne, who is a part of the Mandarin Immersion program at her school helped some of the staff to translate Chinese and Japanese characters seen on pieces of debris. Our last day brought us to a close in Florence, Oregon where we rode horseback through vast sand dunes just along the ocean shore. Does anyone know what endangered species calls this area home?

Jeanne finds a rock covered in some shells.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS

100 Memories
While exhaustion (from having far too much fun) set in on us quite rapidly by the time we closed in on Portland, we were all happy to share stories and laughs about our favorite parts of the trip. We recounted all of the different “100s” we found throughout our journey as we realized how easy it was to relate the Girl Scout’s anniversary to nature. We know we found a large handful of connection, but are there any others you can think of?


Happy 100th Birthday Girl Scouts from USFWS!
For even more photos of our trip, come visit our CPWN Facebook page, and please give us a “like!”

Visit the Girl Scouts OSW Page
The girls enjoying some free time on our long road trip.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS