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  • Writer's pictureEllen Bashor

Back to School & Back Outside!

A peek into the 2021-2022 school year at your Community Nature Center

by Ellen Bashor, Community Nature Center Education Director, City of Prescott

It was an extraordinary year for the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center. What started as a small COVID-relief initiative has grown into daily classes with hundreds of kindergarteners through seventh graders, made possible by a partnership between the City and Prescott Unified School District (PUSD).

Since last August, the City’s nature center has had over 12,000 student visits. Because of generous community members and organizational partners, visits are 100% free to students and teachers.

The park rangers are now preparing fall programs for PUSD students. It’s your City’s Recreation Services’ goal to ensure that every child in Prescott has the opportunity to learn and play in our parks. Here’s an update on the Community Nature Center and a peek into upcoming school-year activities.

First off for those unfamiliar with our City’s nature center, please come visit! The center is an 18-acre open space preserve adjacent to PUSD’s Abia Judd Elementary and Granite Mountain School just off Williamson Valley Road. Open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to sunset, the center is a great place for walkers and hikers of all ages and abilities.

If you have visited before, you may want to stop to see some of the changes that took place this spring and summer to improve learning spaces, protect natural features, and care for local species. Throughout the spring and summer, park rangers have given time and energy to making the center an ever more welcoming place to learn and play this fall — their work is supported by other Recreation Services staff, partner organizations like GEM Environmental and Arizona Serve, PUSD students, Boy Scouts, community volunteers, and many more wonderful individuals and organizations.

Stop by the Juniper Grove Classroom, Bird’s Nest Classroom, or Granite Amphitheater to see the new signage and improved seating and whiteboard areas. PUSD students have decorated flagstones to accompany the center’s new signage, reminding visitors to stay on the trail and protect our fragile prairie soils. Several marked areas look disturbed, but don’t worry because students have been working with club leaders to analyze and address cheatgrass, an invasive species.

Near the cabin, visit our new Monarch Waystation installed in collaboration with the Southwest Monarch Study. Park rangers have planted two key species of milkweed and developed a curriculum for students to participate in citizen science projects as monarchs arrive.

Perhaps most exciting is The Pond renovation! All spring and summer, partners from GEM Environmental, Over the Hill Gang, Arizona Conservation Experience, and others worked to make this area the ideal outdoor classroom. They dug and reshaped paths and drainage, cut logs, built rock walls, constructed benches, restored native plants, and installed a more sustainable water management system. Enjoy an abundance of aquatic and riparian life, as well as the new Pond Amphitheater where classes will take place this fall.

Speaking of classes, here’s a peek into some curriculum initiatives nature center park rangers are eager to implement this fall in collaboration with district teachers and students. Granite Mountain School’s STEAM Program will explore topics such as field science tools and techniques, animal engineers, habitat and species analysis, and scientific illustration. Abia Judd’s fourth-grade teaching team’s biweekly Science Outdoors program introduces students to plant and animal adaptations; natural hazards and wildfire science; and water systems in Arizona. Abia Judd’s second graders will investigate energy in our ecosystems, aquatic life cycles, and animal signs and populations.

As our park rangers like to say, “The students of today are the stewards of tomorrow.”

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