Umpqua Watersheds Blog

Education-Committee Chair updates

AmeriCorps Shines

Published September 4th, 2017 in Education-Committee Chair updates

Ken Carloni, PhD.

Umpqua Watersheds’ education initiatives have been going strong and continue to touch the lives of hundreds of students a year from K-12 through college. The educational programs, originally developed by our VISTA member Roland Wang and expanded by AmeriCorps member Katrina Keleher, offer after-school “Science Friday” programs, Science Olympiad, and other fun and innovative educational opportunities to local elementary, high school, and college students.

These programs were taken to new heights by our 2016-17 AmeriCorps member Bailey Stein, who continued to make connections with students, teachers and administrators across the county. New partners were developed or strengthened with homeless youth at Casa de Belen and the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center.

Through a grant from the Gray Family Foundation written by Katrina, Bailey organized educational tours of Crater Lake National Park for every 5th grade student in Douglas County. These tours were a resounding success! Students (the majority of whom had never been to Crater Lake) completed lessons organized by Bailey and the Crater Lake educational staff that opened their eyes to the minerals, plants and animals that comprise the delicate and fascinating web of life that holds this unique ecosystem together.

Just completing its sixth year, our Learn, Earn and Serve Summer Youth Crew program employed another six young folks to work alongside Forest Service scientists to collect ecological data on the Umpqua National Forest. Mentored by Bailey and UNF Botanist Bryan Benz, the crew collected baseline stand data in the Calf-Copeland Roadless Area in advance of the implementation of the Calf-Copeland Restoration Project whose goal is to “…restore habitat for legacy trees including sugar pine, ponderosa pine and white oak and increase landscape resiliency to uncharacteristic fire, pest and pathogens.”

Our youth crew’s work could have special significance in the near future – as I write this, lightning-sparked wildfires are burning through parts of the Calf-Copeland planning area. Paired with data already gathered from these sites by our youth crew, these fires will provide site-specific data for comparing models of how fire “should” behave to how it actually does on the ground. How well did/will areas predicted to burn hot or cool follow the models? How will Northern Spotted Owl habitat be affected now and in the future?

The silver lining to the expense and danger of controlling these fires is that a serendipitous, landscape-level experiment is happening that will increase our knowledge of wildfire behavior and the predictive capabilities of our models. Integrating the effects of these fires in the Calf-Copeland area into future management plans will be important and exciting work going forward, and will be a lasting legacy of these dedicated young folks.

Bailey and UW Outreach Coordinator, Alan Bunce, were also a great help to the UCC students who joined us on the annual Botany tour in June and on our second Baja tour in March. Both of them put in long hours driving the buses, and Bailey’s command of Spanish was invaluable south of the border.

Every year we finish another Botany tour, Alan and I agree it was the best one yet, and this year was no exception. Every year has its minor issues (last year, first rain ever; this year, triple digit temps in some spots), but the ride through the Siskiyous, Redwoods, Trinity State Beach, the Trinity River, Castle Crags, Mt. Shasta, McCloud River, Burney Falls, Lava Beds and Crater Lake is ALWAYS an inspiring “edutour”. Several members of the youth crew were in the class, and the whole group became a big, happy, helpful, enthusiastic family.

And the Baja tour was spectacular! It was the hands-on component of a new hybrid UCC class I’ve spent years developing: Evolution, Diversity and Ecology of the Baja Peninsula. Students learned course content online during winter term, and applied their new knowledge on the tour. Along with Bailey, Alan, Zoe Broder, and other UCC staff and volunteers, we all loaded into two UCC minibuses and headed south during spring break. Jenny Carloni organized all of the meals, and Juliet Palenshus provided Spanish skills and kitchen help (we ate REALLY well!). We were regaled by gracious and passionate local academics and natural history experts along the way. We visited the fossil collections, tidepools and botanical gardens at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, patted a friendly baby gray whale in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, camped at an oasis near the old mission of San Ignacio, visited 7,000 year old rock art in the Sierra de San Francisco, snorkeled with stingrays in the Gulf of California, walked where an arroyo had created a natural cross-section through a fossilized coral reef at Punta Chivato, hiked among house-sized granite boulders to visit another painted cave near Catavina, and saw California condors in the pine forests surrounding Baja’s tallest mountain in Parque Nacional San Pedro Martir.

If you’re one of those folks who tells me that “one of these years” you’d like to go on one of these tours with us, please let me know. I keep a list of interested community riders who may or may not want to take the course for credit. The first seats go to tuition-paying students, but if there are any extra seats after student enrollments are over, I will open a seat for you in the order that you email me at The next Baja tour will be from March 29th to April 1st, 2018, and the next Botany tour will be June 19th to the 24th, 2018. The Baja tour fee is $790 and the Botany tour will be in the $325 – $350 range. Both fees cover all food, transportation and camping – no other tour companies could touch these prices. Filling an open seat on one of these tours will ensure that we will be able to keep costs down and continue to offer students truly memorable educational field experiences.

All things must pass, and that includes the privilege of having Bailey to continue her great work with us. As noted elsewhere in this newsletter, Bailey has moved on to a Peace Corps position in Paraguay. She has been a rock-solid member of our team for the last year, and although we are all sad to see her go, we are excited for her as she moves into the next phase of her service to the planet.

While Bailey joins the ranks of our beloved former UW VISTA/Americorps members, we are thrilled to introduce our newest AmeriCorps member, Christine Smith. Although Christine has only been in town for a few days, her energy, enthusiasm and impressive resume leave me no doubt that you will be reading future newsletters filled with more uplifting news on our ever-evolving educational initiatives.


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