NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Leave No Trace in Zion National Park

On October 2nd I packed up the NOS truck and headed to Zion National Park for a Leave No trace Master Educator Course.  The Course began On October 3rd, and ended on the 6th giving us four full days to learn and explore in the park. During our time at Zion we did many of the most popular hikes including Watchman Trail, Observation Point, we hiked up the Narrows, and Angels Landing. Zion was in interesting place to host a Leave No trace Course, because in recent years, it has experienced a significant increase in visitors, which inevitably leads to some level of increased human impact.  Knowing this going into the course, I was interested to see what sort of shape the trails and park were in.

Without question, Zion is dealing with some negative impacts. I noticed quite a bit of food scarps such as banana and orange peels left on the trail, but was surprised that I did not see many plastic water bottles left behind. Many people leave natural food scraps such as banana and orange peels, because the think that they will biodegrade within a reasonable amount of time. However, the reality is that those items can take years to decompose, especially in dry desert environments like Zion. This can be problematic, because it will draw wildlife to areas that are heavily trafficked by people ultimately associating people with food. A classic example of this, which I think most people have experienced, are the food aggressive rodents.  All wild animals, including chipmunks and squirrels should have a healthy fear of humans, but in many popular areas, like our national parks, they have become so used to people leaving out food, or even feeding them, that they will come right up to us and even try to chew through our bags to get access to our snacks. This was certainly the case in Zion.

The other major thing that I noticed was social trails, or visitor made paths caused by off trail travel. This was especially evident in the Narrows. While hiking the narrows, there are few places in which you can step out of the river to enjoy a lunch or snack break. Unfortunately, some of the areas that many people think would be a great place to stop for a break are delicate riparian zones, and should not experience foot traffic. The parks does a good job of marking these areas with educational signage, which pleads with visitors to stay out of the vegetation, but many disregard the signs and travel through the vegetation anyways.  

All of these things aside, I was actually very impressed with how respectful the majority of visitors were, especially to each other. One of the greatest things Zion has implemented in the park is a shuttle system, which dramatically reduces traffic issues. The only downside is that the shuttles can get quite crowded, but people remained friendly and cheery nonetheless. I have certainly had the opposite experience at crowded parks in the past.  I was fortunate to spend the majority of time in tin the park during the week, which is probably much tamer than on a busy weekend but, I am hopeful that the level of courtesy and kindness exhibited by visitors during the week transcends into the even more popular and crowded weekends.

Happy Trails!

-Space Jam

Monday, October 1, 2018

Refelctions on AmeriCorps Service - Nevada Outdoor School, Elko Naturalist

The beginning of 2018 challenged me. Financial difficulties caused me to move back home, suspend my education, and leave my job in Detroit at the Michigan Science Center. I taught as a substitute teacher in my hometown for the winter, but felt called to do something more, something different. I began applying for AmeriCorps positions in early March and on the 26th of that same month, I boarded the train for the nearly 2,000-mile journey to Elko, Nevada.

Not long after my arrival, I was in the classroom presenting on photosynthesis, pollination, and the creatures of Nevada’s ancient Lake Lahontan. Though I had much prior experience teaching, this was one of the first times I was able to come into a school and be the person delivering the “cool science lesson.” I was not only teaching, but growing the curiosity in young minds, and reminding the students that learning is not only important, it’s actually fun. 

During the school year and into the summer, my fellow AmeriCorps members and I frequently visited the Elko Explorers at Mountain View Elementary. We enriched this afterschool and childcare program through lessons and activities covering dinosaurs, worms, and everything in between. At first, our arrival was occasionally met with grumbles and a general disinterest in learning outside of school. Quickly, our connections with the children and skill designing activities grew, and so did the students’ appreciation and interest. They embraced the opportunity to eat like insects do, marveled at the length of a blue whale, and huddled together to see how many of them could stand in a Tyrannosaurus Rex footprint. 

As summer approached, I was given the somewhat daunting task of planning and directing our first summer camp of the season. I had planned and taught summer camps before, but they had never been the up-in-the-mountains, sleeping-in-tents type. While in the Ruby Mountains, we went on hikes, swam in the creek, and spent time exploring beaver ponds. It was truly refreshing to spend five days outdoors with these wonderful kids, growing friendships and learning outdoor skills.  For some, this was their first time hiking and camping, making it an even more impactful experience.

We often complain about kids being glued to screens and only finding entertainment through technology, but during the three weeks of camp I was part of, I don’t recall once hearing a complaint about the absence of electronics. It’s incredible how simply taking young people outdoors and giving them the opportunity to explore the world around them seems to make them forget about the devices they’d normally spend hours on. I don’t believe they’re losing interest in the outdoors, rather, there are insufficient opportunities for youth to embrace their curiosity and discover the natural world. 

I am so grateful to have been a part of Nevada Outdoor School’s mission to engage youth and the community in the exploration and appreciation of nature. As an educator, I have gained experience teaching in new, sometimes challenging, environments. As an individual, I have had the fortune to see new places while meeting so many kind and remarkable people. Thank you to everyone who has made this adventure possible.