The City of Loveland’s environmental education program saw record attendance last spring, with more than 1,000 elementary school students participating in lessons about local flora and fauna.
Now, the Open Lands and Trails division is looking to increase its volunteer ranks for the upcoming fall class slate. Free training is now underway for student sessions starting at the end of September.
“Our first full season back from the pandemic was in the spring of 2022, and it was really good,” education coordinator Michele Van Hare said. “We had a school saying ‘we’ve had so many cancellations, we’re still coming’ and it was snowing. We want to be there so badly.
There are three different programs, each aimed at a different age group.
“Critter Scene Investigation” at Namaqua Park introduces younger students (kindergarten through second grade) to a local wildlife mystery and helps them collect clues to help them solve it. This fall, students will examine “The Case of the Feather Puff” to find out how a pile of bird feathers ended up in an unexpected place. In the spring, the students tackled “The Case of the Cracked Eggshell”.
“Plants and Places” at River’s Edge Natural Area is for grades two through four and examines local foliage, starting with that Colorado mainstay, eastern cottonwood. The class also discusses native versus invasive species and looks at the different ways seeds are dispersed.
“Our Canyon and its Wildlife – Energy through the Biosphere” is a one-day course at Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park for older students, up to sixth grade. In five sessions lasting up to 45 minutes, students will learn about animal adaptations, wildlife management and decomposition.
“Children gravitate to anything they can touch – skins, teeth, feathers,” Van Hare said. “I always try to have lots of opportunities to interact, touch and feel.”
In anticipation of another busy season, Van Hare hopes to recruit new volunteers for all three classes. The sessions are free and no prior expertise in biology, ecology or botany is necessary.
“They get a manual and as much support as they want,” she said. “And for programs for older children, new volunteers are paired with an experienced volunteer until they feel comfortable.”
Van Hare also hopes to recruit more teachers for the program, which is ideal for field trips in the fall, especially when it comes to weather, she said. She urged anyone interested to seek more information from Thompson Schools science program coordinator Larissa Clark. She also added that the Loveland Parks Foundation can provide travel assistance to help cover transportation costs.
Training continues this week on Tuesday and Thursday. Additional training sessions will be scheduled in September. For more information on volunteer opportunities for Loveland Open Land and Trails, visit offero.cityofloveland.org.