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Newcastle Field Office Staff Partners with Local School District to Create Discovery Summer Program

By Allison Ginn Barnes, Outdoor Recreation Specialist, Newcastle & Buffalo Field Offices

Students view wildlife during the Upton Discovery Summer Program.
Students view wildlife during the Upton Discovery Summer Program.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Newcastle Field Office and a local school district teamed up to provide a summer program for middle school students last July.

During three separate, week-long programs, BLM specialists and Weston County School District #7 staff provided environmental education, hands-on instruction in global positioning system (GPS) technology and good old-fashioned fun in the great outdoors.

Eighteen students between the ages of 8 and 16 took part in the Upton Discovery Summer Program. The program began in 2008 with a 21st Century State Incentive Grant applied for through the Upton Prevention Initiative Community Advisory Board. The Discovery Summer Program provides a safe summer alternative designed to connect students with the outdoors, increase knowledge of GPS/GIS technology and strengthen the agency’s goal to enhance and expand visitor services, including interpretation, information and education.

The curriculum included two overnight camp outs, sessions in archaeology, plant identification, birdwatching, astronomy, echolocation of bats, and a geology field trip in the Black Hills. Students received training inside the classroom on Monday of each week that included familiarization with GPS receivers.

On Tuesday, the participants met BLM staff at Whoopup Canyon to see prehistoric rock art and learn about the importance of cultural resources and the Leave-No-Trace philosophy. The group then traveled to the Mallo area near the Wyoming-South Dakota border and set up camp at Beaver Creek Campground (managed by the USDA Forest Service Black Hills National Forest). Tuesday afternoons were spent collecting GPS data in the Mallo area and learning about native plants. Perhaps the highlight of each week was the echolocation of bats each Tuesday night, conducted by Chicago Botanic Garden Intern Rachel Wheat. At dusk, the group gathered around nearby Beaver Pond to watch and listen to bats of various species using an echolocation machine.

Wednesday, the groups awoke early for birdwatching, then participated in a wildlife and plant identification session, including track casting at the banks of a pond. Specialists from the Newcastle Field Office were on hand to provide information and answer questions, including Jim Hutchinson, Andy Ambrose, Lynnda Jackson, Barb Lebsack, Allison Ginn, and Field Manager Viola Hillman. That evening, the students gathered for s’mores and stargazing.

On Thursday BLM Geologist James Bashor conducted a tour of the Black Hills region from a geologic perspective. The group even stopped at a nearby gold mining museum. They spent the last day in the classroom, downloading GPS data and creating GIS data.

During the three week summer project, students, teachers and BLM personnel coordinated to collect GPS data points and information on tree species, tree disease areas, noxious weeds, invasive plants, threatened and endangered species, wildlife habitat types, historical markers, recreation trails, and man-made structures within a portion of the Stateline Special Recreation Management Area.

Last updated: 03-10-2010