When students learn about a threatened plant, animal or environmental community, their desire to help often kicks in. They contribute to the cause by writing letters, raising money, and educating others about the issue. Once raised, their awareness can last a lifetime.
Many students and whole classes have raised money to protect an acre of rainforest, save the gorillas, or help wild elephants, even though they’ve never visited a rainforest or seen a gorilla or elephant in the wild. The students still understand the importance of protecting these things just from reading stories and seeing pictures.
So how do we get students — who may never actually visit a redwood forest — to understand the value of these amazing places? How do we inspire them to see the redwoods’ importance as the tallest and some of the oldest trees in the world, as huge carbon capturers, and as critical habitat for many plants and animals? Plus, the redwoods are an incredibly fun place to run around, hang out and explore!
One way California State Parks is trying to reach a wider audience is through their Redwoods PORTS program. PORTS is a free program which brings students virtually to a park. Through a videoconference presentation, a park ranger takes the students on a journey through a redwood forest. They learn about the history of redwoods, the critical role redwoods play in the forest community, unique features of the ancient redwood forest, and how humans are connected to these ecosystems.
The PORTS program lets students experience a redwood forest and learn directly from a park ranger without leaving their classroom. The program serves youth from all over the United States, including those in correctional facilities, and many others who may never have an opportunity to stand underneath a towering redwood.
Ideally, I would love for every young person to be able to visit a redwood forest at least once in their life. Unfortunately, I know this is not possible for many reasons. But for those who are not able to experience the redwoods firsthand, at least through State Parks’ PORTS program they can still learn the immense cultural, historical and ecological value of these forests.