Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Haw River Learning Celebration

Last week I was up at Camp Guilrock north of Greensboro for several days volunteering with the Haw River Learning Celebration. What an amazing feat of human energy. Over 100 volunteers work together over the course of three weeks to bring more than 1,000 fourth graders out to the Haw River to have a day in the woods, learn about ecology and the environment and get a much needed break from the classroom.

It's so apparent that children today do not get enough time outside, for all kinds of reasons including busy lives, TV, computer and video time, fear of the world, and traveling constantly in cars. The end result are children that don't know about the natural world and many who are overweight and unhealthy.

The Learning Celebration was conceived more than 15 years ago by Louise Kessel who got the idea from a group on the Hudson River who did something similar. It has evolved from 7 sites and two groups of kids per day to a more manageable 3 sites and one group of kids per day. One week in Bynum, one in Saxapahaw and one at Guilrock.

Some volunteers camp out at the sites and others come for the day. They lead small groups of 10 year old kids through the woods to a series of stations where they learn about the watershed and what lives in the creek, clay and nature art, animals of the Haw and they get to do a river walk where they simply walk along the river and explore to see what they can find and learn about the trees, plants and wildlife.

It is a fairly cosmic undertaking and I was glad to be a part of it. The Haw River at that point is close to its source and not much bigger than Morgan Creek here in my backyard. But there is also a big beaver dam and marsh that is home to woodpeckers and herons and kingfishers.

At the stream watch station we found lots of interesting water beetles I had never seen before and some fantastic feathery gilled mayflies among other things. At night the staff had a big fire and played games, the last night we held a talent show that was a riot. It was so peaceful and I loved sleeping alone in my little tent, listening to the sound of the rain dripping out of the trees. It never rained us out during the day which was a real blessing and only rained a little at night.

My hat is off to the folks of the Haw River Assembly and all the crew that make this learning celebration a reality year after year. At the end of each day they stage a puppet show with puppets from Paperhand Puppet Intervention and a concert where the kids get entertained while eating their lunches and get the messages of taking care of the planet reinforced a little more.

Then the kids take their trash through a recycling line and learn how to separate it all, its sad to see how many boxes of nasty prefab Lunchables and really unhealthy foods in lots of little packages come out to the river everyday with each group of kids. We've got a long way to go to educate this world about how to be better stewards, but the HRA keeps making an effort and I am glad I could help just a small bit.

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