Check out this wonderful story about one of our partners, sent in by Kristin Leong!
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 NatureBridge Family Program. 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 educator Dee—all saw the tree that day and it felt like the grand finale of our week together.
NatureBridge’s Family Programs take place in Olympic National Park, just outside of Port Angeles. The NatureBridge campus 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, 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 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 teachers and students as well. Family Programs are just one of NatureBridge’s efforts to “connect youth to the natural world.” NatureBridge’s Olympic National Park campus on Lake Crescent (about three hours west of Seattle) is just one of six campuses 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 Programs, NatureBridge offers several Teacher Professional Development workshops 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 programs where students experience science firsthand in national parks.
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 the course of the 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: naturebridge.org.