Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More than Just a Sunny Day

Jim Clapp, Steigerwald manager, shares with volunteers the layout
of the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
For the past year, I've been writing blog after blog about "getting out there." Just simply getting out into nature and enjoying all it has to offer. Though getting people out there is a major goal of ours, for many U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) employees this is merely the first step. For Jim Clapp, Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager, getting people out into nature is a top priority, but he takes things a step further. Managing the refuge for almost seven years, Jim takes leaps beyond the everyday duties of refuge managing to engage locals in the nature of their own community.

Jim with volunteers going over the field notebooks that students will
use during visits to the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
"One Man Show"
The refuge has been humorously referred to as a "one man show," reflecting Jim as the sole caretaker of the grounds, but Jim knows it's a collective community effort. Each school year, Jim organizes and carries out a volunteer and educator workshop to teach and train any members of the public or local educators not just about the refuge but about the variety of plants and wildlife that are present in the city of Washougal, Washington. After these workshops, Jim, along with local teachers, brings school groups out to the refuge, where they are then led by the volunteers through an exciting and educational day outdoors.

The group hears the call of a bird - eager to spot and identify it!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Training the Trainer
I recently had the chance to join in on one of the volunteer trainings at the refuge. With the help of Eric Anderson, a USFWS employee who specializes in education and volunteer coordination (among many other tasks), Jim led a group of five local volunteers on a refuge "walk-through" of sorts. Along the walk, we were given field backpacks filled with tools like binoculars, field guides and journaling materials. These same backpacks are made available for any student groups visiting the refuge. We were also given two refuge-specific field notebooks, one for students, and one for volunteers and teachers to follow as they walk along with students.

Eric assists the training by helping volunteers learn
about plants and species around the refuge.

Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Hands-on Education
These field guides provided more than just reading and scrap paper, guiding students through plant identification, food chain explanations, bird watching and plant-survey activities, and post-field trip activities. All of the materials within the field guides matched common education standards for students that visited, giving them hands-on opportunities to participate in topics like creating their own scientific experiment. Our group of volunteers got to act like kids again and participate in the plant-survey activity. While half of the group climbed through the brush identifying plants, the other half recorded data. By the end of the day, the volunteers, even those completely new to the refuge, left confident and eager to return and provide their own groups of students with what Jim has coined "more than just a sunny day."

For more information on Steigerwald's education program please visit here.
To see even more photos from the workshop, please visit our Facebook page!

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