“Snake! Snake!” cried a cluster of 5th grade students from the banks of Salmon Creek in Vancouver, Washington. Within moments, the cluster of kids had grown as students raced across the Salmon Creek Greenway Trail to see the garter snake, held carefully by Sarah, 12. “I’ll let it go over here,” she said after her classmates got a closer look, and she gently set the snake down in the grass to eagerly slither away.
The joy and excitement of a field trip in nature is palpable among these 5th grade students. No screens, no mute buttons, no faces in boxes on a screen. Instead, birdsongs sang, crisp fall leaves crunched underfoot, and kids’ hands and shoes got dirty with mud after planting trees and shrubs along the creek.
But this field trip almost didn’t happen. It took the generous extension of a grant administered by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), along with the collaboration of Estuary Partnership environmental educators, and school staff and administrators. When schools resumed in-person learning in the fall of 2021, our environmental educators modified science lessons typically taught in a classroom to become outdoor adventures. This modification allowed the educators to comply with Covid-19 regulations for schools, which limited visitors inside the school building.
The snake-spotting 5th grade classroom, along with teachers and parent chaperones who all explored Salmon Creek Greenway Trail in Vancouver, Washington was supported by Ecology’s Stormwater Outdoor Science, Planting, and Recreation for Every Youth (OSPREY) project. Over 800 students have planted 4,800 trees and shrubs on four acres of land along Salmon Creek since 2019 with the support of Ecology’s OSPREY project and in partnership with the Estuary Partnership. The goal of the plantings is to increase the availability of cool, clean, and clear water in Salmon Creek by shading the creek, preventing erosion, and improving wildlife habitat.
After the snake slid away from the large cluster of kids, they resumed their project of planting trees and shrubs that will quickly grow strong and help the creek thrive. Sarah, the brave snake holder, announced to her peers, teachers, and adult chaperones that this was the, “Best field trip ever!”