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Wonder and Wildlife at BLM's Campbell Creek Science Center

Instructor and 1st graders spotting a squirrel nest
Kids hear the chatter of squirrels and look up to discover their nests way up high in the trees. “Nature is a big exciting place,” says science instructor Brian Janson. “It’s full of wonder and beauty.”
We are all drawn to the outdoors by wildlife, especially in Alaska. There’s something special about seeing a moose browse on willows, a snowshoe hare bounding through the spruce trees, or a group of chortling ravens flying overhead. Each wildlife encounter heightens our senses, touches something deep inside us, and reminds us that we are part of something bigger – a natural biological system.

Today 45 first-graders left their classrooms at Chester Valley, took a bus to the BLM Campbell Creek Science Center, split into three groups (each with their own enthusiastic outdoor guide), and embarked on a journey of outdoor discovery.  For one little boy, seeing Campbell Creek for the first time was huge. “This is the longest creek ever!” he exclaimed to Julie Buehler, one of the science instructors. “Is this the Nile River?!”

During the three-hour program, called “Alaska’s Animals,” children explored the forests and creeks, learned about animal adaptations, and thought about how animals survive in Alaska. Brian Janson, another science instructor, took his group into a spruce forest. He pointed out piles of empty spruce cone shells, then he asked what animals left them behind. The kids thought about it for a while, and then their answer came when they heard squeaky noises way up in the canopy – squirrels!  With eyes directed upwards, the children discovered big piles of sticks at the top of the trees where the squirrels made their nests to stay warm in the winter.

“The whole idea is to see what you can learn by the evidence of what was left behind,” says Brian. He challenged the young scientists to use this same evidence-based thinking to figure out a tracking mystery game. Before the kids arrived, Brian went to an open snowy field and set up plastic cut-outs of animals tracks -- a line of moose tracks that crossed paths and ended with wolf tracks, and a curious set of raven prints sprinkled in the mix. It didn’t take much to pique the children’s curiosity.  They wondered aloud and worked together to solve the mystery: a moose was hunted by a wolf and later a raven dropped in to feed on the scraps. “I like to help kids understand that science is not just what’s in a book,” says Brian. “In the outdoors, science is all around them. “ 

In other activities, children used paint and rubber versions of salmon to make artistic prints that revealed fins, scales, and streamlined bodies that make the fish expert swimmers. The children also played scent games and learned that salmon can smell underwater, following their nose from the deep ocean to the very stream in which they were born to lay eggs and repeat the life cycle.  “This was very educational,” said one of the chaperones. “I think some of the adults learned a few things too!”

For Julie and her students just listening to the rippling sounds of the creek was a great joy. “I love nature, public lands, and being outside,” she says. “If I can help children have a positive experience with the outdoors, hopefully they will continue to explore nature and learn to take care of the land and water.” Each day is a new opportunity for Julie to reach kids and help them discover wildlife and the natural world around them. “I just can’t imagine not going outside each day. It’s so much fun!”

— Jeff Brune
BLM Campbell Creek Science Center

Instructor and students at "Alaska's Animals" education activityInstructor and students study animal tracks
Julie Beuhler, instructor at the Campbell Creek Science Center, finds as much joy teaching in the outdoors as kids do learning there. “It’s so much fun!” she says.Science instructor Brian Janson helps first-grade students from Chester Valley solve an animal track mystery by looking for evidence.

Last updated: 07-22-2016