They all sat around a big table at the refuge headquarters. Desoto Bend NWR manager Tom Cox asked the students, “What are we going to call the new trail?” Answering that question was the last assignment for a group of Blair juniors and seniors who were enrolled in independent study at the refuge. After some serious, and some not so serious suggestions, the group combined several ideas and came up with a recommendation – Green Herron Environmental Education Trail. Cox told them he would submit the name to his refuge staff for approval.
The new trail and a set of instructional curriculum packets for future students and visitors are just some of the outcomes of the Blair Community Schools and Desoto Bend NWR partnership and independent study program.
In place of a traditional first block class at the high school, the students traveled to the refuge. Four of the students worked on tasks related to environmental science and to planning, designing and building a proposed trail. The students spent much of the fall using a laser level to survey the trail and wetland area. They also transplanted native grasses, and replaced wood duck boxes and built bat boxes. One favorite project was the fabrication of a basket for 2 million walleye eggs and a corral to keep away predator fish. Another project was constructing a pollinating (butterfly) garden.
On separate class days, senior Kristina Campbell traveled to the refuge to assist Visitor Services Specialist Ashley Danielson. Much of the time Campbell served as an extra pair of hands – organizing and handing out materials, and keeping track of binoculars and other items. After observing Danielson, Campbell also had the opportunity to teach some of the lessons. On the days when there were no student groups, Campbell worked on self-guided curriculum packets targeted to teachers. She said the lessons cover a tour of the visitor’s center and the Bertrand collection. The lessons compare and contrast objects in the collection with similar objects today. Other learning components include wildlife habitat and restoration work. Campbell said the packets are being proofed and revised and should be available to educators by fall.
Following the brainstorming session at the refuge headquarters, the students took a walk along the trail and told stories about their experiences. Senior Ashlyn Johnston said, “It will be kind of cool to come back and say I helped design and build that.”
All five students said they would recommend the independent study class to students interested in wildlife and a hands-on learning experience. “ Colleges love this (internships/independent study),” Campbell said. She will major in environmental Science at Buena Vista University in the fall.
Refuge manager Tom Cox said the new trail which begins near the visitor’s center hits just about every type of habitat on the refuge. “The trail will pull all of this (DeSoto/ Blair partnership) together and come full circle -kids (high school students) building and writing curriculum for future generations of kids.