The night before a recent outdoor field trip to the Santa Clara River, questions flew between Isbell Middle School teachers and volunteer environmental leaders if heat or wind or power outages would cancel the trip. But going to the River, and a rare chance to stand at the water edge, is a strong draw and the two scheduled science classes stuck to the plan.
All day the meaning of watershed came alive for the students. Standing in the Hanson nature preserve they could look upstream to see that the river flowed from a huge valley, they could look downstream where farms drained into the river, and they could look at the adjacent mountainsides where rain also flowed into the river. The Hanson nature preserve is one of very few locations to take classes for outdoor education on the Santa Clara River. It is an absolutely fantastic area containing restored riparian native plant habitat, land and avian animals, trails, and a huge wetland. (Hanson is accessible with pre-approval from The Nature Conservancy, a close partner of Friends of the Santa Clara River.)
During the trip, volunteer leaders, from Sierra Club and Ventura County Wildlife Trackers, let the students explore through constructive activities. Fun learning included use of clue cards to discover native plants, flags placed at animal tracks, and binoculars to spot birds and scan the watershed features. “Seeing the watershed, standing in the riparian area, smelling the plants, touching the ground formations,” remarked Nina Danza, volunteer leader, “provides learning insights not possible from a picture in a classroom.”
Students asked to visit the water and seeing it made the River come alive. The experience at the water’s edge reinforced the lesson that it is a watershed, not just flow rate, defines the river.