Willapa refuge hosts 170 4th graders

Local students got a first-hand lesson in natural history last month.

WILLAPA BAY - Over a three-day period, Willapa National Wildlife Refuge hosted over 170 fourth grade students from Ilwaco, Naselle and South Bend, who excitedly visited seven educational science stations to learn more about the environment and how to be good future stewards.

Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and Willapa National Wildlife Refuge annually co-sponsor this educational event as part of their 4th grade environmental education program. The field trip is a culmination of a yearlong program where 4th graders learn about the refuge system, bird basics, habitat, and the local amphibian population in the classroom.

Volunteers from the Friends group as well as Ilwaco High School students led the seven field stations at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge's Tarlett Slough Unit.

There was something for everyone, from life in the pond to identifying skulls (to determine whether or not they are herbivore or carnivore), to identifying items from the forest by touch, to exploring life in the bay, as well as learning what one might hear if they are quiet in the outdoors, for a moment or two.

They experienced first-hand, developing skills in wildlife viewing, wetlands' animal and plant identification, aquatic shellfish and invertebrates identification, the amphibians' life cycle, an introduction to soil science, and an appreciation for animal behaviors based on interpretation of bone structure.

Students excitedly passed the three hours of field trip under mostly clear skies. Alan Bennett from Naselle Grays River Valley School remarked how much he appreciated the volunteers' passion and knowledge, as well as how integrated the whole process was.

"They know how to work with the students and create a valuable experience", commented Alan.

President of the Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, Bev Arnoldy, commented that by the end of three days the volunteers are bit tired but the look of amazement on the students faces when they see all four life stages of frogs in one dip-net or the dozens of types of shellfish that make Willapa Bay home confirms this is making a difference in how they see their actions today and tomorrow can make a difference in their environment. And, it's all great fun.

Arnoldy continued, "We've successfully honed this learning experience into a rich curricula that's packed with much fun and rich information for young and old alike. I don't know who has more fun, the kids or the volunteers."

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge has supported a very successful and comprehensive education program for the past four years to the six 4th grade classrooms in Ilwaco, South Bend and Naselle. The four in-class sessions and field trip exercise provided each year are recognized by educators as especially effective in instilling a sense of conservation stewardship and Refuge appreciation. The field trip to the Willapa NWR is the highlight of Friends-developed curricula, which introduces Pacific County youth to wildlife management and conservation.

Willapa NWR staff and Friends' volunteers thank the educators and parent chaperones of Pacific County schools for their participation during the field trip. "We're fortunate that educators throughout the county appreciate the unique natural resources of the Willapa watershed and allow time each year for our program," commented Kristine Massin, outdoor recreation planner for Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

The Mission of the Friends of Willapa NWR is to provide assistance to Refuge programs and to enhance awareness and appreciation of the Willapa NWR and these educational programs is a large part of the Friends efforts in accomplishing that.

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