Teaching & Learning

Making Nature Second Nature: Kids Enjoy Natural Resource Field Days

During USU's 2015 Natural Resource Field Days, held Sept. 14-25, some 1,500 Cache County fourth graders gathered in Logan Canyon to learn about water, soils, plants and wildlife.

Though off to a soggy start, Utah State University’s 2015 Natural Resource Field Days failed to dampen any spirits as some 1,500 Cache County fourth graders searched the Logan River for stream insects, got their hands in the soil and pretended to be wild animals seeking shelter.

“I found my favorite bug!” squealed a youngster with delight, as he and classmates scanned for more swimming critters in tubs of river water lined up at Logan Canyon’s Guinavah-Malibu Campground this past week.

“Okay, we’ve seen the aquatic macroinvertebrates,” USU Water Quality Extension program coordinator Ellen Bailey carefully articulated to the high-energy students. “Now, let’s go see where they live.”

The aspiring naturalists quickly formed a line and trooped down to the Logan River, where Bailey’s colleague Brian Greene waited to explain watersheds and assist students in searching the river’s edge for more critters.

From Sept. 14-25, Water Quality Extension, in partnership with the Utah Division of Wildlife Services, Cache County Extension, Blacksmith Fork and North Cache Conservation Districts, Stokes Nature Center, the U.S. Forest Service, Logan City and Cache County School Districts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USU Extension’s Master Naturalist Program, along with more than 100 USU undergraduate volunteers,  led children in daily class-size groups through learning activities about water, plants, soils and wildlife.

“It’s an amazing, highly coordinated effort that gives kids a chance to explore the outdoors,” says Nancy Mesner, professor in USU’s Department of Watershed Science and the USU Ecology Center, and Water Quality Extension coordinator. “Many kids who live in Cache Valley have never visited a Forest Service campground or walked through Logan Canyon. This gives them a fun introduction.”

Now entering its fourth — yes, fourth — decade, Natural Resource Field Days is a much-anticipated activity for Cache County youths and, according to a USU study, a long-remembered outing.

“Several years ago, one of our graduate students conducted an assessment of our participants and found the young students gained significant knowledge about watersheds, and concern for conservation, from the day-long activity,” Mesner says. “Not only that. They were re-tested eight months later and remembered what they’d learned.”

Fostering an interest in water quality and an attitude of responsibility is important, she says.

“Here in Utah, we have a very limited amount of usable, clean water,” Mesner says. “It’s one of our state’s most precious resources and we’re all dependent on it. It’s important to instill this in our future leaders.”

The fourth graders aren’t the only participants who benefit from the two-week endeavor. The field days’ team of undergraduate volunteers, most of whom are elementary education or natural resources majors, gain valuable experience in science outreach.

“A lot of the topics are novel to the students, so it’s fun to see the children react to the information,” says Megan Dunn, a sophomore majoring in wildlife science. “Most of the kids get so involved in the activities, they don’t even know they are learning. I wish this program had been around when I was in elementary school.”

Related links:

Contact: Nancy Mesner, 435-797-7541, nancy.mesner@usu.edu

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

At the Logan River, USU Water Quality Extension scientist Brian Greene explains watersheds to aspiring naturalists. For more than 30 years, the outreach program has provided many Cache Valley youths with their first visit to a national forest.

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