On a cold December morning, I arrived at Rancho Mark West in Sonoma County to the sight of twenty-two sixth graders huddled in a circle beneath towering redwood trees. They were listening silently as their instructors explained how they were going to help the forest by planting two native plants, huckleberry and licorice fern.
This was the students’ second of four trips here, and their focus that day was on restoration and stewardship. These Santa Rosa students were participating in the LandPaths environmental education program called In Our Own Backyard. During the students’ four visits to the ranch they learn redwood forest ecology, stewardship and waste reduction, and of course they get time to have some good old fun exploring the forest.
LandPaths is one of the League’s education grantees. One thing that I especially appreciate about their program is its stewardship component. There is no better way to get students to appreciate an area than for them to help restore it. Allowing students and families an opportunity to take action empowers them and gives them a meaningful and lasting memory.
Through this restoration project, these Santa Rosa sixth graders learned the names of two native redwood plants, and how to dig a hole, carefully place a plant in it and supply it with water. They learned the role of understory plants in a redwood forest and the value in doing this important work. And the best part is that the students can come back and visit the property in the future and see how big and tall their plants have grown.
During my visit, the students shared with me their feelings of being in the forest. They said things like, “this place is beautiful,” “I feel so happy here,” and “these trees are amazing.” One student named Caitlyn said, “I like the smell of the redwood forest, and it is quieter than the city.”
Restoration is such a rewarding action to take to help our environment, and when conducted with kids, it teaches them an invaluable lesson about giving back to the Earth.