Kids learn in the woods near Sisters


Last updated 12/8/2009 at Noon

Kids warm up and hear about Native American life from Sisters archeologist Don Zettel. photo provided

Early on the first morning of December, with cold grey skies over Sisters and the icy scent of snow on the way, most kids would be sitting behind a desk in class.

But thanks to a new Forest Service initiative to reconnect kids with the natural world, Kit Stafford's middle school Arts Discovery class was at Cold Springs, circled around a warm campfire, drinking hot chocolate after scrambling over rocks and learning how Native Americans once used the area.

Sisters Ranger District is part of the Forest Service Youth Engagement Strategy (YES), which is working to develop sustainable long-term relationships and outreach programs through partners to connect kids to nature. With more and more hours spent in front of computers and television, many kids and adults are losing their appreciation of the natural world and why it's important to protect it.

This translates to a worrisome disconnection, and sometimes harm through vandalism, littering, and destructive behaviors.

Stafford believes in trying to turn this trend around. She said, "When we started hiking through the woods, the kids saw the flames of the campfire in the distance. It's like the light that goes on when kids have a great experience in the woods. This was a place in the wild that had been prepared just for them that day."

Student Deena Markel had fun, saying, "Everyone should be outside in the woods!"

The habitat of the natural springs impressed Haley Zadow, who said, "The spring was really beautiful, but I really like the mosses that grow there."

Josh Durantes said, "It was cold, but it was fun exploring and walking around" as they climbed above the rock shelter and huge old growth pines.

Students also cleaned up trash left behind by a group of paintball players who had peppered the old-growth tree grove and Native American shelter site with fluorescent orange and green paint, and left unexploded capsules scattered across the ground. Shelby Bryant didn't appreciate what the paintball players and others had left.

"It was cool to see the natural areas but it hurt to see the graffiti and paint," Bryant said.

Explorations with Kit Stafford's Arts Discovery Class and the youth programs at Caldera at Blue Lake will continue through the year, along with more conversations with kids to get their perspective on how to reconnect kids to the outdoors. The most popular piece of advice from the class was "less homework" and more field trips like this.


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