Educating on Local Ecology
Beginning the week of June 28th and spread across 4 days, 4-H students enjoyed outdoor adventures and learning about water, air, ecology, and soil. The 4-H organization bands together students from across Merced County annually every summer in Pine Crest. Due to COVID-19 this year, they had to improvise by separating the group into 2 reduced cohorts each having a 2-day excursion. About 85 4th-8th graders split into two groups were taught by trained high school students on different environmental topics. The camp this year was located instead on the Bettencourt property where EMRCD houses the tree restoration project. The students got together for icebreakers and introductory activities in the morning, followed by a 2-hour educational event where EMRCD taught about what was happening at the restoration site and more about riparian ecology. The UC extension office and Scott Ross also talked about the pits and gravels located on the site, rock removal, and environmental restoration, and how the topsoil is recycled on mines. The Bettencourt mine produces cement, asphalt, and other materials used for Merced’s schools, highways, buildings, other infrastructure, and even UC Merced sourced their materials from this site. Getting to the tree restoration site requires passing two, 100 ft-deep conveyor belts that transport rocks – something not missed by the eye and strikes curiosity when seen.
After lunch, the students returned for another 2-hour event filled with activities. Over the 4-day period, the students experienced kayaking on the pond, river ecology at the restoration site, t-shirt decorating, bracelet creations from strips, coloring books provided by EMRCD that had details on the watershed, minerals, rocks, plants, water and air, and they also had a treasure hunt after watering the trees! The treasure hunt involved finding elements of nature: something decomposing, leaf litter, rocks, stick that was forked, and two different kinds of grass. The kids made it absolute to find the best rock. They got back together at the end of the day before their campfire to decide, by a point system, what the best rock was and the winner of all 4 classes got a prize.