Bring the kids and get your feet wet at WREN’s Family Exploration Days

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Right at the edge of Eugene, a rich wetland ecosystem offers boundless opportunities for recreation, awaiting exploration, wetland education, and plant and animal identification.  Look no farther than the West Eugene Wetlands for great blue herons, kestrels, pacific tree frogs, and countless other creatures in their wetland habitats.  Walking or biking along its trails, or kayaking or canoeing through it’s creeks, one can spot these species and others, and, if you’re lucky, even spot an otter swimming in Amazon Creek.  If you haven’t explored these wetlands for yourself, there’s no reason to wait. The location is perfect, the spring timing is right, and the Willamette Resources and Educational Network (WREN) is ready to help you get started.

Part of the West Eugene Wetlands Partnership, WREN strives to connect individuals with their natural world, and increase personal and community awareness of the wetlands.  WREN offers a lively variety of school programs, both in the field and in the classroom, for public and private schools.  1st and 2nd graders explore the “Scales and Tails” of wetland creatures, 3rd through 5th grade students participate in a “Wings over the Wetlands” program, and both elementary and middle school students can join in on “Mammals Like Me!” as they investigate mystery animals by viewing (fake) scat, tracks, and bones.

WREN also offers community programs for all ages, from pre-schoolers to adults.  These programs incorporate hands-on experiences for the construction of new ecological knowledge and cover a wide variety of topics.  Events might include bird walks, dragonfly walks, winter crafts, and owl pellet dissections.  They are usually offered on evenings and weekends, and are open to the public.  Another thing to look forward to is American Wetlands Month, which happens every year in May, and will include additional community events.

According to WREN’s Environmental Education Assistant Carrie Karl, the Family Exploration Days stem from the movement following Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.  Louv bemoans what he calls a “denatured childhood” as children spend less time outdoors and experience a dwindling connection to the natural world.  Programs like WREN seek to inspire that connection by offering opportunities of exploration and education to children and adults alike.

At WREN’s Family Exploration Days, each family expedition will be provided, at no cost, with a backpack filled with binoculars, hand magnifiers, bug boxes, field guides, and other materials for self-guided wetland exploration.  Knowledgeable WREN volunteers will be on hand to answer questions, point out objects of interest, and provide additional opportunities for exploration. One such opportunity will be an area set up with dip nets and trays so families can dip for macroinvertebrates and other pond life in the vernal pools. Macroinvertabrates are organisms without a backbone that are visible without a microscope, and include many types of insect larvae and also,  if timing is right, tadpoles. Good indicators of a healthy ecosystem, macroinvertebrates appear in abundance and variety in healthy, unpolluted waters.  When going for a “dip” with WREN, you will be able to take a sample of water from the wetland pond and look at it up close.  At first glance the tray simply appears to be filled with water and some plant and soil particles.  But upon closer inspection, one finds that a good dip is literally teeming with life.  Extensive identification guides will be available for identifying the tiny critters, and WREN volunteers will be available for assistance.  Families can also look for birds, dragonflies, bugs and others on their own, exploring the wetlands at their own pace.

Carrie reminds us that, “Families are asked to dress for the weather and be prepared to get their feet wet!”  So grab some boots and get ready for a fun day of wetland exploration.  The first Family Exploration Day will be held this Saturday, March 26th, from 10am – 2pm at Stewart Pond.  (Steward Pond is located on Stewart Road, east of the intersection with Bertelson Road and just north of West 11th.) Consecutive Exploration Days will occur on the 4th Saturday of April and May.

For more information, visit wewetlands.org.

Photos courtesy of Carrie Karl

— Sarah Nicholson EDN

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