By Anne James, Outdoor Education Specialist, NGPC
So, what does education have to do with Wildcat Hills Wildlands conservation? Education is how we acquire tools to exist in the world. And conservation education is no different.
It’s very important for people to have a connection to nature. It gives them balance and a sense of connection, sparks their imagination and creativity, offers solace, and is good for overall well being. Just getting into the wild, alone, can provide that connection. Conservation education in the Wildcat Hills Wildlands immerses people within nature and focuses on teaching about our local ecosystems and man’s place within those ecosystems. We believe people need to have a “sense of place” that connects them to their own environment. Our educational activities help create an interesting and exciting “place” for young and old alike.
The Wildcat Hills Nature Center provides year-round education in classrooms and summer camps and activities to continue that connection with nature. Young children are often seen “flying” outside the Nature Center with their crepe paper wings, or hiking the hills with Outdoor Education Specialist, Anne James. In classrooms, she teaches the students about ecosystems, migration, or adaptations and gives the students a broader sense of nature’s scope. Sixth grade students from all over Educational Service Unit #13 come to the Nature Center to learn all about the benefit of trees during Branch Out, an event sponsored by ESU #13, Scotts Bluff National Monument, North Platte NRD, Nebraska Game and Parks and the University of NE Panhandle Station. The students come to the realization that they are the ones who must take the steps to save these fragile ecosystems and their species, because it’s their own personal future we are shaping today.
The Nature Center works along with Children and Nature in Our Parks, a local nature/education oriented partnership, to get people involved in our natural areas. The summer High Plains Science Adventures, 5th-8th grade camp, focuses on a different science theme each year and takes students on an in-depth, hands-on investigation of that topic. Partners who present the camp include the National Park Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, University of NE State Museum, Riverside Zoo, Scottsbluff Trails West YMCA Camp, University of NE Panhandle Research and Extension Service, North Platte Natural Resource District, Nebraska Prairie Partners, and Educational Service Unit #13, all working together to promote education.
Conservation education also includes Nebraska Game and Parks wildlife biologists taking people on hikes to see the bighorn sheep herds and staff photographers teaching about how to get just the right picture. Bird banding, in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and NE Prairie Partners, gives people an in-hand look at our local migratory birds and their adaptations.
So you can see that conservation education in the Wildlands has a broad range and is a lot of fun. Just by coming to the Wildcat Hills and enjoying nature, allows nature’s magic to reach into a person’s soul and touch it somehow. So, we encourage everyone to come to the Wildlands and make that connection with and learn about nature. You will find that nature in the Wildcat Hills is truly magical and you too will want to work to save that magic.