How do you teach a program whose goal is to have kids interact with their local creek with no access to a creek? This was the problem faced by the Education team at The Watershed Project while preparing to teach our Riparian Lab program for the City of San Pablo’s summer camp at Davis Park. The ultimate goal of the Riparian Lab program is to connect urban youth to nature and introduce them to careers in science. “Riparian” describes the area running along the banks of a river or a stream. During the program, a local Riparian zone becomes an outdoor classroom for kids to become engaged in science. Davis Park appeared to be the ideal setting for our program because Wildcat Creek meanders through the entire length of the park. We had envisioned the kids exploring the creek’s banks and easily discovering its bed, as most of its water would have disappeared in the summer heat.
In order to gain a better understanding of the area in which we would be conducting the program, the Education team made a preliminary visit to Davis Park, where we discovered a very dry and trash-filled Wildcat Creek. Nonetheless, the numerous chip bags and soda bottles inhabiting the almost waterless creek bed did not discourage us. We thought of trash cleanups and trash tallies in the creek bed and of searching for macro-invertebrates in the small pools. However, our ideas for molding our Riparian Lab curriculum to fit the setting of Davis Park were quickly disbanded when we were informed that due to liability and safety issues, a camp policy existed that prohibited us from taking the kids to the creek. We were stumped. We struggled to imagine how we would be able to foster a connection between the kids and their local creek without them being able to interact with it.
After many long brainstorming sessions, we decided on activities that would encourage the kids to become stewards in their communities, in particular in regards to local creeks. We agreed that each day would have a different overarching theme. These included Exploring like a Scientist, The Animals of Wildcat Creek and The Effects of Pollution on our Watersheds. The kids seemed to really enjoy exploring Davis Park through activities such as a scavenger hunt for natural items, using scientific detective tools, and making leaf rubbings. We also conducted numerous arts and crafts based activities, such as creating watershed maps out of crumpled paper and markers, constructing models of creek-residing insects and fabricating local animal tracks out of clay. Introducing these concepts through a range of activities helped us work towards our goal of expanding the lenses through which the kids see their local creek. We hoped that gaining an understanding of Wildcat Creek’s role in a much larger system would motivate the kids to become longstanding stewards of their local creeks.
I believe that one of our most effective means through which we attempted to encourage a lasting relationship between the kids and the creek was by ending each of our visits with the kids adding to our map of Wildcat Creek and Davis Park. We started off with a piece of cardboard and asked the kids to draw the various things that they did and found around the creek on the blank map. They drew the activities and games we performed, the numerous plants and animals they encountered, and themselves exploring the entire riparian zone. We hope that the kids will continue to feel like essential parts of their local riparian environments and become stewards for healthy urban creeks in their communities.
Photo 1: The Richmond Standard, http://richmondstandard.com/2015/10/grassroots-effort-inspires-significant-improvements-at-davis-park-in-san-pablo/, Photo 2: Liza Dadiomov, Photo 3: Liza Dadiomov, Photo 4: Lauren Woodfill