A sunny Friday afternoon on Oct. 11 provided prime hiking conditions at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area for nearly 30 youth from Club Aves, an after-school program through Hacienda Community Development Corporation’s expresiones program.
Taking a stroll through the natural area led by two naturalists, students learned the history of Smith and Bybee while they looked into the distance with their binoculars to spot birds in the lake or flying overhead and beavers or other wildlife.
On the walk through the natural space, some saw a woolly bear caterpillar crawling on the pavement. Others saw the many mushrooms now sprouting from the trees and the ground. Another group looked for creatures or at least evidence of creatures under a log.
“I saw a bunny!” said Divine, one of the youth.
Most of the students come from the Latinx and Somali communities in Cully Neighborhood in northeast Portland, a neighborhood that has historically had limited access to nearby natural spaces.
“They just opened Cully Park last year, but before that there was no big park to hang out at so it’s really important that we learn and recognize that there are spaces to access nature that are kind of close by or close enough that we could take a bus,” said Raina Brot-Goldberg, environmental educator who runs the education programs at Verde, an environmental organization based in the Cully Neighborhood.
“In response to being culturally responsive and culturally appropriate, I recognized that birding isn’t accessible for everyone,” she said. “Although it’s called Club Aves, the focus is more around having positive outdoor experiences with our students and their coordinators and creating trust and community with each other in nature.”Club Aves was started in 2013 by Verde staff who partnered with Hacienda CDC to take students on birding trips. The program eventually faded away three years later, but Brot-Goldberg was hired last year to bring new light to the programs that have been set aside, which included Club Aves.
Some students explored Smith and Bybee during a group hike last year. This year, attendance doubled. Those who attended in the past could work on their binocular skills and mentor the newer students, Brot-Goldberg said.
“I just really love the relationship-building part,” she added. “A lot of the students are students I worked with last year at Club Aves and other programs so it’s really wonderful to build trusting relationships with these students and also just see their responses to being outside and their curiosity is something really wonderful to just experience with them.”
Metro supported this trip through its summer 2019 community-led sponsorships. Club Aves plans continue to partner with organizations and agencies to make the group more sustainable and well-rounded with culturally responsive naturalists and programs with outdoor trips in the fall and spring.