Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's Move Outside! In the winter!

Washington State Special Olympics nordic skiing competition at Leavenworth
NFH. Credit: USFWS

By: Barb Kelly Ringel

Let’sMove Outside! is a national initiative spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama to promote outdoor physical activity for children and families and to connect them with recreation activities on public land. Exercising in nature improves physical and mental health, which is especially important for youth, and vitally important in winter. Growing up in Minnesota I loved sledding, skiing, and even winter camping. The 170 acres of the LeavenworthNational Fish Hatchery is a great winter playground that allows me, as an environmental educator, nordic ski coach to share my winter outdoors enthusiasm and get kids outside and moving.

Winter Life Snowshoe Tour on the grounds of Leavenworth NFH
Credit: USFWS
More Than Just Snowshoes
Winter Life Snowshoe Tours, sponsored by Friends ofNorthwest Hatcheries, get all ages and abilities out. The free two hour snowshoe treks start at the hatchery and travels on the nature trail along Icicle Creek. Service, AmeriCorps and other volunteer guides cover topics including hatchery history and operations, winter life adaptations, and looking for signs of animal life. This winter we have found tracks from river otter, squirrels, voles, and lots of canids. Bald eagles have soared overhead.  American dippers, mallards, and mergansers dabbled in the cold water, and chickadees and white-headed woodpeckers flitted in the trees. People enjoy the mix of trying snowshoeing, exercising in winter, and learning. Many plan to snowshoe again.

Cascade Discovery High School students enjoying learning while on a
showshoe tour. Credit: Janet Hunter/AmeriCorps
Discovering Winter's Nature
Unique to Leavenworth NFH, is the Cascade Discovery Alternative High School located on hatchery grounds. Our weekly "Discovery Naturalist" class is led by myself and our AmeriCorps volunteer. This winter we have taken several snowshoe treks. Students have shared information about an animal or topic they investigated, collected and looked at lichens, and measured and identified animal tracks. Students learned that "cougars can leap 40 feet, that's the length of a school bus, the long way", marveled at the beauty of lichens, and found pathways for the river otters to get into the raceways.

Skiing the Hatchery
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, under a special use permit, grooms 8 km of nordic ski trails on the hatchery grounds and gets thousands of skiers every winter. As a nordic ski coach, after work I help get over 100 kids out on these and other trails learning to ski better and faster. Some compete at a high level, and many have embraced an active outdoor lifestyle. Washington State Special Olympics hosts nordic skiing competitions on the trails, and hatchery staff help with event logistics. These nordic skiers are as dedicated and enthusiastic as any Olympians, and the local team trains on the hatchery trails throughout the winter.

Modeling "Let's Move"
It’s a pretty magical mix – 170 acres of public land in a beautiful snowy location and partnerships and special use permits to allow for various winter activities, volunteers and others willing to explore, an alternative high school that values getting the students outside and learning, and kids who enjoy outdoor winter activities. The Discovery students were pretty excited to hear that Michelle Obama wants to know about outside winter activities at the hatchery. What they are doing is the model of what she wants to promote under Let’s Move Outside! My hope as I watch the students snowshoeing with their classmates is they will realize how fun it is to be outside and in their free time will choose to move outside.