Taking Kids Outside in the Copper River Valley

Youth hiking along Upper Tangle Lakes on a BLM-WISE hosted hike. Photo by Marnie Graham.When the Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) learned of the BLM’s new Take it Outside initiative, they were excited. The initiative gave them the opportunity to formally partner with the BLM. Since the ‘Take it Outside’ initiative encourages youth to participate in outdoor activities to gain a better understanding of their natural environment, and WISE is all about science education and the environment, it was a perfect match!

WISE first contacted Marnie Graham at the BLM Glennallen Field office. WISE had collaborated with Graham before with Earth Discovery Day, Changing Seasons, and the Copper River Stewardship educational programs. Formalizing a partnership between WISE and the BLM could help provide even more opportunities and support for area youth programs.  

Students checking oxygen levels in water samples. Photo by Bruce James.Paul Boos of WISE says, “Recent trends reflect a decrease in outdoor activity in youth in favor of indoor sedentary activities.” He was concerned. Today’s youth are “losing a basic understanding of the impacts we have on the environment, the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

Graham agreed. This year, WISE Executive Director Bruce James and BLM’s Graham took youth outdoors in the Glennallen area through 11 new ‘Take it Outside’ summer programs. They also began paid summer ‘Take it Outside’ internships to help administer those summer youth programs, and to encourage the teenagers to pursue careers in natural resources, interpretation and resource management. Last summer, the BLM hired five interns for the ‘Take it Outside’ programs, including Hanna Rosenkrans, Luke Ringger, Sonya Johns, Rachel Stumpf, and Mathew Vos. WISE hired Derrick Sinyon as an interpretive intern to work on WISE’s Copper River Country Nature Tour program. Sinyon provides visitors with a cultural perspective on life in Alaska’s Copper River Basin.

While WISE designs these ‘Take it Outside’ programs for fun, outdoor learning is what it’s all about. For one of these programs, the BLM used stream tables to show the young participants how streams and rivers can change the environment. They learned about the dynamics of streams and rivers, healthy watersheds, and the impact natural river events may have on the river system. During hikes, the young students explored mud volcanoes, learned which berries to eat, and how to read maps.

Students study waterbugs under a microscope. Photo by Bruce James.WISE and the BLM plan to continue developing their ‘Take it Outside’ efforts to make a difference with youth throughout the area. They will continue the successful Copper River Stewardship program, a hands-on, in-depth adventure and intensive outdoor education program for 10 teens selected annually from communities throughout the Copper River watershed. They know that by bringing youth outdoors and helping them to learn about their environment, whether as participants or helping to administer the programs as interns, together, they can reverse those statistics. “Take it Outside” is helping to make that happen.

For more information about these programs please call the BLM Glennallen Field Office at 907-822-7325 or WISE at 907-822-3575.

— Paul Boos from WISE, Danielle Allen and Marnie Graham contributed to this article.