Every year, Mariah Acton meets fourth-graders who have never been on a hike or seen a blue heron.
And every year, the Columbia River Watershed Festival seeks to change that, and give students a new perspective.
Acton, events and volunteer coordinator for the non-profit, helps organize the festival, which is held in a Clark County park every year. This year, it was held in Capt. William Clark Park in Washougal. It also rotates with visits to Klineline Pond, Vancouver Lake and Lewisville State Park.
The goal is to teach as many fourth-graders as possible about environmental stewardship and conservation, and having fun while learning about it.
On Thursday and Friday, approximately 1,000 kids, including those from Camas and Washougal, participated in the event. They made their way through 16 rotating stations, which ranged from environmental storytelling to conservation to searching for evidence of animal activity along the beach.
“They don’t get these kinds of activities anywhere else in school these days,” Acton said. “There have been so many cuts to field trips and outdoor school.
“We really try to reach out to all of the schools.”
Columbia Springs has been organizing the two-day program since 1997, in partnership with the Clark County Department of Environmental Services, City of Vancouver, Clark Public Utilities, and other funding partners.
Local schools do not pay to attend the event.
“Fourth-graders tend to be at a good age to learn about conservation,” Acton said. “We try to get them active in understanding local watersheds.”
Anna Hovanas, who teaches fourth-grade at Prune Hill Elementary, said the students had been very engaged in the event throughout the day, and especially enjoyed going to the beach area to search for clues of animals, industry and human recreation.
“It gives us good, general information about watersheds and how all the water systems are related in our state,” she said.
Mady Ogle said her favorite part of the day was going to the beach at Clark Park.
“You got to dig in the water and I found a lot of clams,” she said.
Michael Lee enjoyed looking for footprints along the beach and riding the bus.
Holly Hughes, Dorothy Fox fourth-grade teacher, enjoyed having her students get involved in a hands-on activity, building miniature streams and rivers.
“It’s fun seeing it work in action,” she said. “It’s hands-on learning.”
Ilaria Cunningham enjoyed singing songs about the watershed, with lyrics the students made up.
“I liked it because the songs we sang were funny,” she said.