The goal of an education program begun in 2017 by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy is simple: bring children to nature and sow within them the seed of curiosity.
“I think most people that have fallen in love with the environment and interacted with the environment can trace that back to something in their childhood,” said Ana Lutz, the conservancy’s education manager.
”We want to provide those experiences that will last a lifetime for them so they can carry that feeling through their lives. The conservancy believes it’s difficult to care about something if you don’t experience and you don’t love it.”
The conservancy is a fundraising and support nonprofit dedicated to preserving, protecting and sharing the natural and cultural resources of the San Dieguito River Valley, which stretches from Volcan Mountain near Julian to the Del Mar coastline.
“When we are gone, who is going to take care of this?” Trish Boaz, the executive director of the conservancy asks. “We need to have future stewards.”
The educational programs begun in 2017 are aimed at children of all ages and walks of life. Nearly 1,000 kids have already taken part in at least one of the programs and the conservancy has plans to increase those numbers dramatically in the years to come.
The programs focus both on the more rural, pristine parts of the watershed as well as the more urbanized areas where a trail might run through a canyon surrounded by homes.
“It’s really special when you can fall in love with nature when it’s surrounded by society and urbanization and people,” Boaz said. “You can find nature in these urbanized areas. We can teach them not to give up hope. There are small little pockets hiding under our faces.”
The conservancy works with various school and community groups and recently won grants from the San Diego Foundation and the county allowing it to buy two vans that can transport 26 children.
Some of the education programs are structured and designed to fill in gaps in school science curriculums. Others are looser programs with the basic aim of exposing kids to the environment, often in conjunction with other nonprofit groups.
A few examples:
The Watershed Explorers program encompasses many activities, from hiking in the mountains to horseback riding. Lutz said one is called “Micro Climate on a Macro Scale” where kids will visit five different areas “and look at their micro-climates and habitat within the locations and how they’re going to be affected by climate change.
A program for the smallest children, called “A Pollinator’s Paradise,” will teach kindergarten through second-grade students about Monarch butterflies.
For high schoolers, the “Coastal Wetlands Field Ecology Project” takes students to the San Dieguito Lagoon where they will learn about the importance of wetlands and become involved in the conservation of the watershed. It asks students to research, carry out field-ecology studies, and gather and analyze data to address the complex issue of development and its impacts on the natural environment based on the following scenario:
“A developer wants to build a water park and hotel adjacent to the San Dieguito Lagoon. Based on field-ecology studies conducted on the project site, do you support the development of the site (and if so, with what mitigation measures) or should it be preserved to protect its natural resources?”
Other programs call for watercolor painting at the San Dieguito Lagoon, the Del Dios Gorge near the Lake Hodges dam, and along Del Mar’s North Beach.
Camping and hiking trips are planned. There are programs for home-schooling groups, inner-city schools and schools, both public and private, in the more affluent areas of coastal North County.
The conservancy has created a 5-year education strategic plan modeled after the Encinitas Creek Conservancy plan. It started in July 2018 and is now in its first year. The plan will include 75 percent of participating schools within the river watershed and 25 percent from other parts of the county.
The education manager for The Escondido Creek Conservancy, Simon Breen, said the conservancy also sought help from them in creating their education strategy.
“We know that SDRVC’s new Education Strategic Plan will help elevate environmental education in the region, resulting in more people becoming enchanted by nature and working to protect it,” Breen said.
For more information visit www.sdrvc.org or call 858-755-6956.
— J. Harry Jones is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune