Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Yesterday at 2:14 pm / Community Education Parks
State Parks awards $700,000 to Del Norte County Office of Ed to improve access to nature
For most Del Norters, the idea of not having stood under a redwood tree or slouched across the sand at a local beach at least once may be unimaginable.
But for many students, seniors, and those struggling with mobility issues, the reality is that they can reach national, state, and local parks just minutes from their homes.
“We have kids who live in Crescent City who say they’ve never been to the beach. Some of them didn’t know what a tide pool was,” said Del Norte County School Superintendent Jeff Harris Wild River’s outpost on Thursday. “We asked some kids, ‘What have you always wanted to do but never did?’ We’re talking eighth graders and high school seniors. They’ve never fished, they’ve never been on a kayak, they’ve never backpacked, they’ve never camped overnight – we’ve heard these kinds of things over and over.”
Because of these stories, the Del Norte County Office of Education, in partnership with Redwood National and State Parks and the Redwood Parks Conservancy, received $700,000 in state Greater Outdoor Access and Learning (GOAL) grants.
Part of a $57 million total funded by the California State Parks Outdoor Equity Grants program, Del Norte’s grant aims to help parents become better interpreters; bring nature into the classroom; Incorporate nature-based learning into their professional training courses and help high school students, seniors and other community members experience nature through history, per their project description.
According to Harris, the $700,000 grant will be paid for an RNSP employee who will be paired with a County Office of Education employee who will work at the Redwoods’ Family Resource Center. They will run two different programs, one providing parents with information and resources on kid-friendly parks to take their little ones to.
The second program consists of developing environmental education, including leadership, conservation and stewardship, and integrating it into a mobile classroom that will visit schools across Del Norte, Harris said. He likened it to visiting one of Redwood National and State Parks’ visitor centers and said the DNCOE agreed to contribute $100,000 towards the purchase of the van that will house the classroom.
But the grant will fund even broader programs, Harris said, although much of what that will look like has yet to be determined. The DNCOE aims to have the programs up and running by late August or early September. Harris said county education officials are also working with the Redwood Parks Conservancy and officials at Redwood National and State Parks to fund the programs beyond the three-year grant expiration date.
“It’s designed for all members of the community — students, families, multigenerational groups, seniors — to get out and experience local, state and national parks,” Harris said. “There is a wide range of things to do such as cycling, fishing, hiking, art in the park. All sorts of things – beach clean-ups. There are some connections (Career Technical Education) to help children who have gone through CTE programs understand the behind-the-scenes jobs available in state and national parks. So there is just a huge variety of little things.”
Excursions include visiting Howland Hill Outdoor School, doing a beach cleanup at South Beach and Crescent Beach, and exploring the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, Tolowa Dunes State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Other suggested activities include conducting an Art in the Park program at the county’s Florence Keller Park, Camping 101 at Redwood National and State Parks and Sue-Meg State Park, Fishing 101 on the Smith River, and involving youth in the North Coast Junior Lifeguard Program at Enderts Beach and South Beach.
This grant will allow RNSP to better utilize Howland Hill Outdoor School, according to Erin Gates, assistant superintendent for Redwood National and State Parks. It will also serve as a direct link for students to careers within the RNSP and allow them to learn some of the skills needed to work at their own parks.
In addition, the partnership with the California State Parks junior lifeguard program furthers the water safety skills of local youth, Gates said.
“We don’t have beautiful, gentle beaches like Southern California, so it’s good for the local community to be more water conscious,” she said. “The junior lifeguard program is already offering two summer programs in Del Norte in August. This grant could allow bursaries for local youth to apply to receive all fees (paid) to attend the junior lifeguard program. “
One thing some Del Norte County residents take for granted is the ability to hike to some of the more remote locations in the community, Harris said. With state and national park employees working with the DNCOE to receive the GOAL grant, they can give seniors and those with mobility issues access to places they might otherwise never see, Harris said.
“We all think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “According to national park officials, this is the first grant of its kind. The first grant of its kind ever awarded in Del Norte County.”
Gates said the same thing, noting that about five minutes from downtown Crescent City is Tolowa Dunes State Park and the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, one of the most biodiverse places in California. Five minutes east is the Smith River, designated Wild and Scenic and one of the cleanest rivers in the United States
“How much of our community is able to participate and not only recreate themselves in these lands, but learn how to be stewards of these lands?” Gates said.
After more than two years of repression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Redwood National and State Parks are experiencing some of the highest attendances they’ve ever seen, Gates said. But she said she’s excited that the GOAL grant will help encourage locals to explore the parks that surround their community.
California State Parks awarded 125 outdoor equity grants to communities throughout the Golden State. According to its website, Outdoor Equity Grants seeks to create hubs for local activities and nature outings for underserved communities.