STEWARDShip training

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Pamela Archer has always loved the outdoors.

Now she has the chance to teach kids about them.

Archer is the first coordinator for the STEWARDS program being operated by a partnership of local watershed enhancement boards and a host of other agencies.

STEWARDS, which stands for Students Engaged in Watershed Resource Development Sessions, aims to educate local schoolchildren about the outdoors and local natural resources.

Archer, who recently earned a master’s degree from Oregon State University in marine resource management, is in her element, she says.

“I knew since high school that I’d be doing some sort of conservation biology-related career,” she said. “I believe my talents lie in working with children. This kind of puts two loves together. I get to play outside and work on restoration projects, and work with kids at the same time.”

Archer was born in Duluth, Minn. and raised in the northern part of that state. Her father is an avid hunter, she said, and her mother is a nurse.

“I played outside every day of my life, growing up,” she said. “Our first house was in a swamp. Our next house was next to a little creek and a pond.”

She said her new job, which is being funded for two years by a grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Council, focuses on trying to develop a stewardship ethic in children at a young age.

The program originated with classroom visits by K.C. Briggs, a U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist based in Sweet Home.

Briggs began making appearances in local grade schools three years ago to teach children about local fish and watershed resources.

“I found there were great opportunities to further the education level of our youth in these areas,” she said.

Sweet Home Ranger Station personnel partnered with local schools in classroom visits, which led to the establishment of Outdoor School, an overnight event in which children get hands-on experience with experts in a broad range of outdoors issues and activities.

Last year the Forest Service funded employee visits and six Discovery Sessions to prepare students for Outdoor School, which included Oak Heights, Holley, Crawfordsville, Sweet Home Charter School, Siletz Charter School and local home-schooled students. A STEWARDS Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives of the various partners, guides the program and its development.

Briggs said the partners in STEWARDS include: the Sweet Home School District and families within the district; the Santiam Canyon School District; the Community Services Consortium; the Calapooia, North and South Santiam watershed councils; the Sweet Home Ranger District; the Sweet Home Community Foundation; the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board; the Grey Family Foundation/Oregon Community Foundation; the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Oregon Trout; OSU Extension; the cities of Albany and Lebanon; the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz; and the Over the Rivers and Through The Woods Scenic Byway Committee.

“We just keep adding more and more each year and the partnerships and program components grew into what they are today,” she said.

“Each year we have done more, served more students and expanded our opportunities to serve and educate the youth in our communities.”

To get funding for the program, South Santiam Watershed Council Coordinator Eric Hartstein successfully applied for a $20,000 grant from the Grey Family Foundation/Oregon Community Foundation and the SSWC and others collaborated in raising another $30,000, for a total of $50,000, to fund Archer’s position and the other programs STEWARD is working on.

One early project this year for STEWARDS was the cleanup and restoration of a seasonal creek that borders the playground at Crawfordsville School. Teacher Dan Swanson, together with Archer, coordinated an afternoon in which third- through sixth-graders dug out invasive foreign plant species and replaced them with native plants and others that would improve the health of the stream and its residents.

Archer said her main priority is to educate local children about the water resources in their community.

“I want them to have some sort of relationship with the river that runs through their town,” she said.

“It’s important for kids to have some sort of understanding of their environment no matter what their values are, because they live here and we all live in the same watershed.”

She said she is developing curriculum for fifth-graders and plans to visit classrooms, as Briggs and others have done, to present discovery sessions before children participate in Outdoor School. Her presentation will include a virtual watershed tour using Google Earth.

“It’s a traveling field trip,” Archer said. “I bring the river into the classroom to increase their awareness of the watershed. I’m trying to use technology that kids are familiar with these days – make it more of a virtual reality experience.”

She’s also working with Sweet Home High School students, who have decided they want to be known as the Watershed Restoration Team (rather than the Junior Watershed Council).

Archer said the WRT will come up with projects that members want to work on and will develop proposals that may include funding requests. She said she’s had help from teachers Billy Snow and Nancy Ellis in promoting the program and students are attending WRT meetings.

“Some of the student responses were amazing,” Archer said of the response. “They love the outdoors and they want to help the community and make Sweet Home a better place to live.”

Briggs said WRT is the result of an effort to “create a nexus between the youth and adults in our communities who are interested in learning more about our resources and what they can do to maintain or enhance those resources.

“By inviting our youth to the table we can bring more diversity and creativity to finding solutions for some of our watershed issues while providing an environment which fosters the development of leadership skills, civic engagement and education for those youths who are engaged,” she said.

Briggs and Archer said the plan is to extend the high school program to North Santiam School District next year and then to others. Lebanon middle school students have already worked with Briggs to create and install interpretive signs at the USFS Yukwah Campground on Highway 20 east of Sweet Home.

“We started small, worked together and have created something much bigger and better,” Briggs said. “I hope to see it continue to grow and improve because through it our students will also continue to grow and improve for the betterment of our community.”

Archer, who lives in the Corvallis area, came to Oregon in the fall of 2004 as an Americorps volunteer at the Siuslaw National Estuarine Research Reserve in Charleston, near Coos Bay. In addition to her master’s degree, she has a bachelor’s from the University of Minnesota in fisheries and wildlife.

“I just love being outside. That carries over into the type of job that I want. This is perfect, working with kids, exposing them to new things – kind of being a traveling field trip, in a way.”