Between April and October of 2012, the Onondaga Creek Conservation Council held events in New York state at Onondaga Creek, Kirk Park, Elmwood Elementary School, Tully Elementary School, and Southside Academy Elementary School, reaching almost 400 people.
Coordinator Stacey Smith writes that, “We wanted to get urban and rural people, especially children, outside, physically active, learning about and helping restore native habitat for birds and other creatures. We wanted people to become sincerely interested and inspired – to come to love a particular bird, insect, flower or tree. We wanted people to look, listen, feel, touch – and yearn to help heal fragile, hurting nature. We wanted people to feel a sense of responsibility and hope for their stretch of Onondaga Creek. We wanted to give people the opportunity and skills to make a tangible, positive contribution to biodiversity. Finally, we wanted people to have fun and create caring community together.”
With both classroom and field activities over the course of several months that taught habitat restoration, nature identification, arts and crafts, and more, we have no doubt that Ms. Smith and her team achieved their goals. On Earth Day their event at Kirk Park with 125 Elmwood Elementary 4th and 5th graders saw the planting of diverse native wildflowers and shrubs while learning their roles in the ecosystem (for example, monarch butterflies and caterpillars need milkweed, and goldfinches like thistles), games about bird migration, and guided nature tours. Here is a clip from a local news network, which the children loved being interviewed for.
In June, 20 boys and young men between 10 and 20 years old who participate in the grassroots group 100 Black Men of Syracuse, Inc. helped plant more wildflowers and trees, engaging in a conversation about the creek, habitat, biodiversity, birds, and how to help. In four hard hours, with three teams, they hauled around 10 tons of composted soil for a new garden and planted about 30 trees along the creek. Ms. Smith reports, “These young ones were great. Totally engaged, hard working, respectful, and open!”
Ms. Smith also shared with us an anecdote from her experience this summer:
“Two days this summer, I was out working on the overall habitat restoration effort. I was by myself, just weeding, planting, tending. Each day a small group of kids walked up, started asking questions. ‘What are you doing? Why? What are those flowers named?’ I asked would you like to plant a flower? Yes. How many? 2. Okay lets go pick out 2 flowers you would like to plant. Each day the kids stayed all afternoon. 4 kids for 3 hours. Planted half the garden. And the next day 4 different kids, who then went to tell their moms and get their little siblings. They stayed till long past dinner.
The children were African-American and Puerta Rican. We named things in both English and Spanish. I gave them each a Cornell Bird Kit. They were thrilled! It was one young girl’s birthday that day. She said she had the best birthday — that she had never had such an amazing field trip before. A litter of rabbits were under the creek foot bridge, and the little rabbits would skitter out and munch on all our delicious wild flowers. The kids loved these rabbits. They got still and silent, watchful. Then laughed delightedly when a rabbit took a bite! Those were two beautiful afternoons. The kids live in sight of the restoration project and creek and want to keep helping! That is what this is all about!
Also, two boys came along on a very, very hot afternoon on their way to the pool, and said they wanted to plant two wildflowers each. After about five plants, the one 8 year-old boy looked at the other boy and said, ‘Hey, you wanna stay here? This is way more fun than the pool.’ The boys stayed for 3 hours, planting and asking and learning.”
We’re glad the Onondaga Creek Conservation Council was able to engage kids in the Tully and Syracuse areas so effectively! Below are some more pictures of their events.