There’s a ghost tree at the bottom of Lake Crescent. It reaches grey and leafless from the nearly barren bottom up to just close enough to the surface so that on lucky days campers in their canoes can look through the sparkly turquoise water and see it. It was a lucky day on the final morning of our Family Learning Adventure a few weeks ago. Eleven of us in our canoe—parents, one 72-year-old grandmother, a three-year-old, one teenager, and a collection of budding environmentalists of ages in between, plus our sage and energetic guide Dee—all saw the tree that day and it felt the grand finale of our week together.
NatureBridge’s Olympic Park Family Learning Adventure takes place one hot week in July just outside of Port Angeles at the NatureBridge campus which is centered around the historic Rosemary Inn built in 1914. The campus sits on Lake Crescent and is surrounded by mountains. Deer wander around. Eagles and hawks fly overhead right on cue. But the Lake. The Lake is the star. Clear and deep and cold. Because it lacks of nitrogen, algae doesn’t grow so the water is photoshop-style brilliant blue-green and clear all the way to the bottom before it drops off deep enough to cover the Space Needle. When we take a walk before our family-style dinner with the other campers after our daily adventures with Dee, we follow the Lake’s edge. Everything is so beautiful, the light in the late afternoon all gold and nostalgic. But it’s wild too. A little frightening. It’s humbling and inspiring just to be there.
We started our week working in small groups, families mixing with families, drawing on Washington State maps together to figure out the outline of the Olympic National Park. Dee led us in a conversation about the necessity and challenges of protecting the land. The little kids made observations about how green our state is. The big kids read about the Peninsula’s Native cultures and shared what they learned with the group.
Over the course of the week, we then experienced the forests, beaches, and efforts at preservation and restoration that we learned about on day one. We hiked through old-growth forests and made links five, six, even seven of us around to measure the circumference of the trees. We took in the gravity of the largest dam removal in history as we saw firsthand the gradual but inspiring impact of the Elwha River restoration. We waved to Canada as we ran around in the bright but icy winds at the Strait of Juan de Fuca while we threw bright orange drift cards into the waters and learned how scientists are using these cards to track ocean currents. We went to Salt Creek and ran our fingers over sea anemones and mourned for the melting sea stars. We heard an unexpectedly hilarious talk on rocks with the spirited and mustached John Cornish. We listened to S’Klallam stories with Native storyteller Elaine Grinnell. We ate s’mores and sang a song about banana slugs. And then, of course, the ghost tree on the last day.
NatureBridge is an unmatched resource not just for families, but for educators as well. This Family Learning Adventure is just one of NatureBridge’s efforts to “connect youth to natural world.” The Olympic National Park program on Lake Crescent (about three hours west of Seattle) is just one of six sites around the country (Yosemite, Golden Gate, Santa Monica Mountains, Channel Islands, Prince William Forest, and Olympic) where NatureBridge is creating “classrooms without walls” and using inquiry and exploration to inspire students of all ages to find their place in the natural world, connect culturally to the land, and become leaders in sustainability.
Their programs are year-round (except for December and January), hands-on, and focused on stewardship and science. In addition to Family Learning Adventures, NatureBridge offers several Teacher Professional Development opportunities for educators from across the country who are interested in invigorating their science curriculum and bringing the outdoors into their classrooms. NatureBridge also offers school and group Environmental Science Programs which are 3 and 5 day overnight experiences where students experience science firsthand in national parks.
All of NatureBridge’s programs are transparently linked to their Core Educational Framework centered around three themes:
Sense of Place
NatureBridge’s Framework dovetails nicely with Washington State’s Integrated Environmental and Sustainability K-12 Learning Standards, adopted by OSPI in 2009. These standards are also organized into three parts:
Standard 1: Ecological, Social, and Economic System
Standard 2: The Natural and Built Environment
Standard 3: Sustainability and Civic Responsibility
This third Standard states that students will “develop and apply the knowledge, perspective, vision, skills, and habits of mind necessary to make personal and collective decisions and take actions that promote sustainability.”
Interestingly, three of the four families that took part in our Olympic Park Family Learning Adventure this summer included a parent who is an educator, my own family included of course. For the littlest of the campers, NatureBridge’s alignment with State Standards is probably not so interesting. They were just busy having fun and getting dirty. But for the grown ups, NatureBridge’s conscientious push to ensure that our adventures in learning were relevant, applicable, and inspiring was clearly appreciated.
If there was a learning target that we achieved over our Adventure week then perhaps it was simply that we understood this: The world is awesome and we should be outside, unplugged, and protecting it more.
For more information about NatureBridge visit www.naturebridge.org.
All images copyright (c) 2015 Kristin Leong
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