Wild & Scenic Saturdays Offer Experiential Learning Along the Westfield River

Wild and Scenic Saturdays on the Westfield River
April through October, 2014

Click to view larger image.

Wild and Scenic Saturdays cover a wide range of topics and include activities that cater to families with children of all ages. Additionally, the learning embedded in each and every one of the events will help children not only to better understand the river ecosystem, but will allow them to connect the things that they experience in the watershed to concepts that they’ve learned and home and school.

For over twenty years, the Westfield River has been distinguished as a National Wild and Scenic River. The river and its watershed provide critical habitat for a great many plant and animal species (rare ones included!), serve as a source of clean drinking water for humans, and offer us a place to commune with nature and enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking.  Treat yourself each month to Kurt’s column, The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers. This month he features the Westfield River in his post, “The Cure for All Things Pavement.”

During the coming months, the Westfield River Committee is offering a series of Saturday workshops, work days, guided explorations, and other events in order to engage the community in a process of learning about and how to care for the river and its watershed. The Wild and Scenic Saturdays offer a mix of educational activities, opportunities to engage in community service, and adventures into the watershed’s fascinating wilderness.

Held on Saturdays once or twice a month from April through October, Wild and Scenic Saturdays cover a wide range of topics and include activities that cater to families with children of all ages. Additionally, the learning embedded in each and every one of the events will help children not only to better understand the river ecosystem, but will allow them to connect the things that they experience in the watershed to concepts that they’ve learned in school. Topics like habitat, species diversity, food chains, the water cycle, geology, and changes in seasons (phenology) are all easy to learn about experientially while participating in a Wild and Scenic Saturdays event.

This coming Saturday (May 5th, 2014), for example, families can take part in a workshop titled Walkin’ the Watershed in which participants will learn how to become river stewards, helping to care for a section of the Westfield River. In committing to help care for the river, children will learn about the potential negative impact that humans can have on the environment and will be inspired to think about the important role that the river plays in their own lives. Similarly, the Make Way for the Natives workday (held on Saturday, May 24th) will teach families about invasive plant species – often introduced into the wild through human error – and the effect that they have on the local environment. Children will not only contribute valuable man-hours while working on the Keystone Arch Trail, but they will learn to examine the interconnectedness of all of the plant and animal species in the watershed in order to truly understand the devastating effects that invasive plants like stilt grass can cause.

In addition to offering opportunities to participate in valuable environmental education experiences, the Wild and Scenic Workdays also present families the opportunity to learn about some of the newer practices used to study the ecology of a place. On Saturday, August 9th, families can attend Caught on Camera, a workshop that will teach participants how to use wildlife cameras and other photo-monitoring devices in order to study hard-to-see creatures in the watershed. Not only will children learn about some specific animals, they’ll learn about how the devices utilize modern technology in order to deepen scientists’ studies!

Another newer practice (which is much less tech-y) used to study the watershed is the bioblitz, an event where participants spend a set amount of time identifying as many species of plants and animals as they can. The purpose of such an event is to dig deep into the species diversity of an area so as to assess the environment’s health, and to learn more about the many different habitats within an area. On Saturday, September 27th, the Westfield River Committee celebrates its 20th year of its Wild and Scenic designation with a Watershed Blitz workday, scouring the river and its banks for plant and animal species of all kinds.

Not all of the events offered are held at the same location, and start and end times may vary. In order to participate, families should register in advance by contacting Meredyth Babcock at 413-623-2070 or volunteer@wildscenicwestfieldriver.org, or visit them online at www.westfieldriverwildscenic.org.

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