A beautiful creek runs right next to Riley Creek Elementary in Gold Beach, but none of the students even knew it was there.
“It was completely covered with blackberries,” says Statia Ryder, Watershed Education Coordinator for the Curry Watersheds Partnership. “You couldn’t see it. You couldn’t get to it.”
That’s when the students got involved. Middle schoolers cleared blackberries, removed trash and planted trees. The county donated gravel, and students laid a trail and built stairs. The result was a new outdoor classroom safe enough for even the younger students to access, too.
“The kids are so proud of it, because it’s theirs,” Statia says.
In addition to Riley Creek, the Curry County Watersheds Partnership has more than a dozen outdoor classroom sites scattered among the 10 major watersheds of Curry County, Oregon’s “Wild River Coast.” In a county where many students are on free or reduced lunch, and there is currently no outdoor school offered, the Curry County Watershed Partnership is filling an important need.
With support from the Gray Family Foundation, the outdoor classrooms program is growing and today serves more than 600 students at every school in the county. Field trips include water quality monitoring, salmon viewing, planting trees, removing invasive weeds and otherwise caring for natural areas.
Through the popular Adopt-a-Stream program, middle school classes maintain their own streamside site, such as Riley Creek. “Each school has their own specific area they take care of,” Statia says. “In the past 10 years, the kids have planted more than 10,000 trees.”
While the kids get their hands dirty, the teachable moments abound.
“Teachers loved the science support and are begging for more this year,” Statia says.