The Teton Regional Land Trust began to explore youth educational opportunities early in its conception and continues to strive to connect our region’s youth to the natural world. We strongly believe that education is an important component of our work and that by educating kids on conservation and stewardship we can sustain connections between people and land that will carry on for generations.
In 2007 we partnered with Teton Nordic Club and offered several Nordic Naturalist ski events on conserved properties in Teton Valley. Children toured the conservation easements in search of signs of wildlife with help from Teton Regional Land Trust and Idaho Fish & Game staff. Wildlife and wildlife signs observed included trumpeter swan, grouse, mice and voles, porcupine, muskrat, and moose. Each skier received a Nordic naturalist card with which they could keep track of all the wildlife signs they found while skiing. Each child who took a total of three trips and filled out their card received a Nordic naturalist pin to help them commemorate their wildlife observation work. These Nordic Naturalist skis were held each year endured until 2015.
Also in 2007, the Teton Regional Land Trust created a scholarship in honor of Michael B. Whitfield. Michael’s commitment to land conservation in Eastern Idaho has been instrumental in the protection of key landscapes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This scholarship program ensures that students, regardless of their financial ability, can pursue a career in conservation. Candidates are eligible to receive $1,000.00 toward their educational endeavors and must show an intention to pursue a major course of study in college or vocational school in the environmental sciences, biology, ecology, environmental planning or policy, agriculture, or a related field. Applications for the scholarship are due in April each year and reviewing them is something the staff always looks forward to awarding. Maybe one of the awardees will come work with us one day!
Since 2013 the Land Trust, in partnership with Idaho Fish & Game, US Fish & Wildlife, the Wyoming Wetlands Society, and The Trumpeter Swan Society, has released a number of Trumpeter Swans cygnets on suitable, conserved wetlands. The swans are banded or tagged and the hope is that they can be tracked and that they might return each year to Teton Valley to raise their own young. Depending on when the release happens, the Land Trust tries to invite a group of students to attend the release. Students get a lesson from a staff member on swans and their ecosystem, the chance to look closely at or even hold a young swan (they’re big!), and be a part of an important project that might shape the patterns of an iconic species. Kids who attended the releases are encouraged to look out for the tagged swans and report any possible sightings.
Raptors on the Ranch, held in 2012 and 2013, was a free event held at Six Springs Ranch in Driggs, where Teton Raptor Center brought over some of their feathered advocates to give flight demonstrations and to celebrate and learn all about our region’s birds of prey.
Our Woods Creek Fen outdoor classroom is open to the public! While we are not offering formal instruction, we do have it open for groups to use.
As part of the Teton Regional Land Trust’s Valley Venture Education program in 1999-2007, children explored educational stations filled with science. In the Fall, 5th-grade students in Teton Valley visited Treasure Mountain Boy Scout Camp, while 5th graders in Fremont County visited the Chester Wetlands, as the first half of a two-part educational series that gives children a chance to explore the outdoors and learn about nature. In the spring, the same Teton County fifth grade students explored the Wood’s Creek Fen outdoor classroom. Our eastern Idaho students live in such a remarkable place and we hope their ventures encouraged understanding of their local environment and interest in future exploration of this very special place.
In addition, teacher trunks have been an effective tool to connect our local youth to our local ecosystem. The teacher trunks originated in 2009 and have been enjoyed by students and teachers for more than a decade. In 2019, Joselin and Hilary created a program, Cranes in the Classroom, that utilized a script and an art project to deliver an in-person lesson about Sandhill Cranes and why our region is so important to their long-term survival. When Covid-19 hit in 2020, we switched gears a bit and created a virtual presentation that made it easier and safer to present the materials. We realized that we could engage a broader audience by having a virtual component to each of our lessons, and we decided to revamp our teacher trunk series with new materials, Spanish translation, and an online component.
Thanks to grant support from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley Youth Philanthropy program, Battelle Energy Alliance, Intermountain Aquatics, Richard Grundler, and Nancy Winter, we have outlined a series of four new Teacher Trunk lesson plans that build on each other and that we will roll out over the next year. We are striving to create four distinct trunks that can be used by community members throughout the year. Our last teacher trunk update was in 2010 and the materials are deteriorating or have become outdated. We are currently rejuvenating our teacher trunks with exciting new materials and information, salvaging what we can from the old trunks while exploring current topics and creating a user-friendly curriculum. Each trunk will be tailored to a specific grade level, and the modules will build on the previous lesson. The trunks will include laminated images, replica animal parts, digital software, literature, printed lesson plans, and any other relevant materials, contained in a carrying case for easy and safe transport. TRLT staff will provide a video presentation of each lesson that will be on our website, as well as the necessary information for a parent or teacher to teach the materials, depending on individual needs.
Winter Ecology: Snow Science and Animal Adaptations will be followed by Spring: Healthy Ecosystems and Renewal (4th Grade). We will roll out another trunk in late summer for 1st graders, will make our Cranes in the Classroom (2nd grade) “to-go”, and we have future plans to update our Woods Creek Fen outdoor classroom for middle schoolers.
The Land Trust will continue to seek out opportunities to connect with and educate the youth in our region so that future generations may know the beauty and importance of the natural world around us, so that they may love it and protect it.
For more information about our Teacher Trunks or Youth Education, please visit our Education page here on our website or reach out to Hilary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Rick Budde (2012)