Every April for the past three decades Americans have celebrated their concern for the environment with Earth Day. Some of the most important components of the day are activities for children that teach them about our relationship to the natural world. But environmental education goes on all year long in classrooms, laboratories, and -- most especially -- on field trips where kids get hands-on experience experts say is vital to their understanding. At a new nature preserve in Medina County, that learning will continue long after school lets out. 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports.
Karen Schaefer- This group of third and fourth graders from Medina City Schools can't wait to get outside. But it's not recess they're excited about. A couple of dozen kids are here tonight with their parents at the Wolf Creek Environmental Education Center in Medina County, just south of Sharon Center. They're about to go for an evening hike with Medina Parks Chief Naturalist Dan Bertsch.
The center just opened last November as part of a wetlands mitigation project on 350 acres of former farmland. Park Director Tom James says half the site was deeded to the park district as a gift with the stipulation that it be used to educate children about the environment. The education center houses classrooms, a lab, lecture hall and a library, all paid for by a county levy. But James -- a former teacher -- says the emphasis is on what's to be learned outside the building.
Tom James- There's been a lot of progress even in my lifetime about the impact man has on the environment. Centers such as this, our goal is to get the kids here to help instill that in them at an early age, so they carry it with them into adulthood.
KS- On the boardwalk over Wolf Creek's four-and-a-half acre wetland, naturalist Dan Bertsch is finding that these kids are ready to learn.
Bertsch says teachers like the environmental approach to learning because it integrates so many different fields of study. Caroline Watkins used to teach at Oberlin College. She now heads the Ohio EPA's Office of Environmental Education, which funds more than a million dollars in local programming for children and adults each year. She says national polls show Ohio kids are largely up to speed on environmental issues. But Watkins says while kids have a good grasp of environmental science, their parents still have a lot to learn. In 1999, the Ohio EPA conducted a study to find out just where the gaps are.
Caroline Watkins- We were trying to get at how well they understand some basic principles of ecology. We found that, for example, that Ohioans have a pretty good understanding of things like bio-geography, ecological energetics, the carrying capacity of the land. But they didn't have as good an understanding of ecosystem succession, biotic interactions, the importance of diversity in ecosystems.
KS- Medina County park officials believe places like the Wolf Creek Center can help both kids and their parents become better stewards of the land. So far it's been mainly local school groups that have taken advantage of the center's resources. This summer they hope to attract visitors of all ages with programs that examine the preserve's diverse habitats -- from deep ponds to pine forests, wetlands, meadows, and even patches of prairie. So far Wolf Creek is the only county park resource in the region dedicated to environmental education. But park director Tom James says he expects that to change.
TJ- My interest in the out-of-doors came as a junior high and senior kid, our pastor of our church spent his Sunday afternoons generally on a hike in the woods. Those Sunday afternoons planted the seed in me that I would one day end up doing this. Nature education is the key to the future of all park districts.
KS- Parks aren't the only place to find environmental education programs designed for kids. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and even local solid waste programs can teach kids about conservation, recycling, and other environmental issues. Educators believe that with programs like these, every day can be Earth Day. In Medina County, Karen Schaefer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.