There’s more to parks and nature than just native plants and wildlife – it’s the people who make truly special, memorable places. Providing meaningful experiences for people of all races, ages and abilities to connect with nature is critical to nurture the next generation of conservation leaders.
Thanks to money from voter investments, expanded nature education programming has provided groups and individuals more opportunities to learn from Metro naturalists, including school field trips, free guided nature walks, survival skills classes and other activities.
Metro’s Youth Ecology Corps, now in its third year, continues to serve low-income, disconnected youths in the greater Portland metro region. The Youth Ecology Corps is a partnership between Metro and Project Youth Employability Support Services to provide youths aged 16 to 21 in the east Multnomah County area with paid work opportunities in habitat restoration, conservation education and workforce development. Four Youth Ecology Corps graduates are now working for Metro.
Volunteering on the ground also helps people build connections with the nature around them. For instance, volunteers helped plant thousands of trees over the past year across the greater Portland region. Seeing trees they planted grow through the years at a favorite park or natural area provides people with a direct link to the local environment.
Other volunteers waded into chilly ponds in the winter to count frog and salamander eggs, helping scientists survey their numbers as well as the overall health of wetlands in the region. More than 200 volunteers refurbished hundreds of picnic tables at Blue Lake Regional Park, providing a better experience for visitors enjoying a family gathering. Whether they help out for a one-day group event or contribute time throughout the year, volunteers collectively make a big difference.
Graham Oaks provides prime habitat for pollinators – and for students to learn
Early on a spring morning, first-grade students filed out from Boones Ferry Primary School for a field trip to the park they visit monthly. But for these students, it doesn’t take a bus to get there – Graham Oaks Nature Park is located right next to their school.
Because the school and nature park are so close, Metro and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District have partnered to use Graham Oaks as an educational environment for the students, where they can explore and participate in service learning projects regularly.
“We’ve been doing stuff throughout the year,” said Bonnie Shoffner, volunteer coordinator for Metro. “At our last monthly field trip, they planted native shrubs in a hedgerow for pollinators.”
On this visit, the students, teachers and parent-helpers were giving those pollinators houses.
“Mason bees typically would be in hollow stems of bushes and trees,” Shoffner said. “But because they need a little help, people put wooden boxes out with holes in them.”
Luckily for the bees, local Cub Scout leader Daniel Carter and his troop built dozens of mason bee boxes for use throughout Metro sites. Luckier still, Carol Clark, who keeps mason bees on her property near Oregon City, read about the houses and was inspired to donate bee boards with sleeping mason bees already in them.
“Even though with our habitat, we probably have native bees that will come, this will increase the likelihood that the houses will be occupied,” Shoffner said.
As the kids got into groups, the adults nailed the boards and boxes to snags near the hedgerow. The bee homes were fastened facing east, to be warmed by the morning sun. The students also learned about the life cycle of plants and sang a song to remember the parts of insects.
Rachael Romanouk, 7, has high hopes for the bees.
“They might be cute! I love cute things,” she said. Rachael was also pleased to hear that mason bees rarely sting.
Graham Oaks provides an excellent learning opportunity for the students, who benefit from participating in restoration projects at the park, said Bob Carlson, director of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s Center for Research in Environmental Sciences and Technologies – which is next to the park.
“The school district really appreciates the partnership and sees it as a really valuable thing,” Carlson said.