DELTA — The reviews are in and the harshest critics of all are unanimous. The first-ever Stepping Into Nature Festival was a smash hit.
Just ask Aancha.
“It’s fun because you really get to embrace nature and see how it works,” he said.
Omar raved that it’s “really cool seeing nature. It’s my first time here. I thought it would be a lot more marshy.”
Sukveer thought it was “cool and fun. I loved the games…and the skulls…and the blindfold game.”
Jennifer said her favourite part was “picking the ivy out,” while Isiah called it “amazing. It’s really fun learning about the bog. It’s my first time here though my mom and father have been here many times.”
Held in early October, the multi-day festival, in which local elementary school children were given a thorough tour of the Delta Nature Preserve portion of Burns Bog, was the first of its kind and likely not the last. At least if the kids above – from North Delta’s Gibson Elementary – or attendance figures have anything to say about it.
Arranged by the Burns Bog Conservation Society and featuring numerous interactive “stations” positioned throughout the Preserve, the festival saw no less than 432 students come through, and another 333 on the waiting list.
Organizer and BBCS education co-ordinator Maureen Vo adapted the event from similar festivals held in Ontario, and she was on site too, wearing a big smile.
“We do field trips all the time, but we’re never done something like this that’s so hands-on and interactive,” she said. “In doing this we create citizens who are very conscious about the environment and decisions that are made about development.”
At one station, kids got up close and personal with the infamous sunken tractor of Burns Bog. Seems that back in the 1970s, a tractor was stolen from nearby Scottsdale Mall and – in a moment of absolute stupidly – driven into the bog’s soft quagmire of mud and peat.
Today, the beast remains where it ended its journey, unextractable and almost completely submerged save wee bits of its loader that poke up spookily above the surface.
Thing is that the cab roof currently lies just a couple inches into the muck. And when the kids were told they could step temporarily off the boardwalk and jump on it, well, let’s just say they went a little kerbonkers.
A built-in bog trampoline? Yes, please.
And that’s the way the day went. Kids, blissfully free of handheld electronics and the walls of a typical school day and behaving like little Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews.
In the midst of it was South Delta Secondary School student Jonathan East. East was one of several dozen SDSS kids invited to the event as part of the school’s cross-curricular “STRIVE” program, running certain stations and acting as teachers themselves to the younger elementary school children.
“At this station we discuss bees and what we can do to save them,” said East, am earnest guy whose words belie his age. “We basically talk to them about fragmentation, how we put up construction and pave over forests, and how bees have to fly too far to get to their food and how they’re dying out. We have them do activities to have them match up types of flowers an seeds and such.”
Soon a wave of kids arrived and East went to work. And the smaller kids listened – apparently digging the idea of getting their info from a person just a few years older. They played games and they learned about the critical role bees play in our world, and then they moved on down the path to the next station.
Meanwhile, another pod of kids approached Darren Colello’s station. Set up just a hundred meters beyond one of the Preserve’s “transition zones,” where in this case low-lying bushes and wet ground give way to a canopy of towering trees and a pretty carpet of moss and dirt, Colello’s station featured kid-friendly stuff like stuffed animals and a menacing grizzly bear skull.
A member of the Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society, Colello knows his stuff.
“Nowadays there’s a big nature deficit disorder. My station highlights BC biodiversity – the different kinds of living creatures in our province, from raptors to marine life to bears, cougars, deers, and so on. We have more species here than anywhere else in Canada because we have the most diverse habitat, and that’s what I show the kids.”
Soon, Colello and a trio of SDSS girls were in the middle of the swarm, and the excitement was palpable. No video games here, yet the kids were truly spellbound.
A half hour later at the “Hug a Tree, Hug a Salmon” station, the action was frantic. Kids were blindfolded and led on circuitous routes to given trees by non-blindfolded kids. They then examined their trees by touch only, before being led away. Later, the blindfolds were removed and they were asked to locate that exact tree on their own. Everyone was laughing.
Watching the craziness unfold was Gibson Elementary teacher Katherine Han, a big believer in bogucation.
“We wanted to come to the bog and have the children learn about the ecosystem. Gibson actually has a little plot on the watershed where we’ve eliminated most of the (invasive) ivy and replanted most of the species.
“We tell them that this is their future and that we are so lucky in Delta to have this as part of their district. It’s so close to home and it’s so close on a weekend to give back and reduce their carbon footprint.
“A lot of these kids…it’s their very first time being in the bog. They had no clue that this was in their back yard.”