News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 394


Hands on the Land

From a pilot program last year with 19 students, a summer science program in the San Joaquin River Gorge has grown to 60 students getting a “hands on” experience.  For years, elementary school students have learned about natural and heritage resources through programs at the Bureau of Land Management’s San Joaquin River Gorge.  This year, 60 middle school and high school students from the Sierra Unified School District worked and learned through the month-long, “Hands on the Land” program. Students laid their hands on the land by rebuilding a trail to design standards with proper slopes and switchbacks.

“This is a wonderful partnership with the Forest Service, BLM and Sierra Unified School District,” said Michael Gardner, school district superintendent. “It was a great learning opportunity.” 

Tracy Rowland addresses participants at awards ceremony
Tracy Rowland addresses participants at awards ceremony.

In addition to the work projects, students received five class credits for  60 hours of environmental education where they learned about plants, animals and habitat of the gorge and local area.

Participants and guests hike down a trail constructed by the students
Participants and guests hike down a trail constructed by the students.

The program helps BLM by getting maintenance work done while teaching students about resource management, said Tracy Rowland, BLM San Joaquin Gorge manager.  Students who built the trail won’t be taking shortcuts when hiking. “They’ll get their friends and families to stay on the trail,” she said.

Participants and guests continue hiking on the trail
Participants and guests continue hiking on the trail.

The program benefited both BLM and the students, she explained. “We got a lot of our maintenance backlog taken care of that we couldn’t have done any other way,” she said.  In addition to the environmental education, students learned leadership and problem-solving skills and how to work as a team.  “They did a lot of work under very hard conditions,” she said.

Tracy Rowland above river on trail
Tracy Rowland above river on trail.

Tracy has seen students who participate in the educational programs at the gorge form an emotional attachment to the land and some have said they want to work in natural resource jobs.  Almost all the participants to date have said they want to return next year.

In addition to work at the gorge, BLM and the Sierra National Forest are planning to expand the program to the forest next year. Students will be able to do work at the higher elevations when it is too hot to work in the gorge.

- D.Christy, BLM Central California Public Affairs, 8/3/09

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 394