River Resource Day gets students passionate about conservation

Third graders from Twin Bridges look out over a wetland at Silver Springs Ranch west of Sheridan last Thursday during the Ruby Watershed Council’s River Resource Day. These students are looking for bugs, birds or animals that might be living in the wetland area. Their instructor for this session was Ellison Orcutt from the Montana Natural Heritage Program. Orcutt’s session was one of eight the students participated in during the daylong event. Other educational stations included topics like bugs, invasive weeds and groundwater science.   Photo by Greg Lemon

Third graders from Twin Bridges look out over a wetland at Silver Springs Ranch west of Sheridan last Thursday during the Ruby Watershed Council’s River Resource Day. These students are looking for bugs, birds or animals that might be living in the wetland area. Their instructor for this session was Ellison Orcutt from the Montana Natural Heritage Program. Orcutt’s session was one of eight the students participated in during the daylong event. Other educational stations included topics like bugs, invasive weeds and groundwater science. Photo by Greg Lemon

When you go to school in southwest Montana, sometimes your best classroom is outside the walls of the school building.
That is the premise behind the Ruby Watershed Council’s River Resource Day, which was held last Thursday at the Silver Springs Ranch west of Sheridan.
“We do this with the idea that even rural kids do not get out in the field and don’t get to experience our natural world enough,” said Rebecca Ramsey, Ruby Watershed Coordinator. “It’s a great way to get kids out of the classroom and do some real hands-on learning.”
This was the sixth annual River Resource Day and on the banks of the Ruby River all the third, fourth and fifth graders in the Ruby Valley learned about everything from soils, to wetland creatures to raptors.

Becky Kean with the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman holds Bu, a great horned owl that lives at the center. Kean spoke to the students about the various raptors that live in Montana. Bu was joined at River Resource Day by a vulture the MRCC was rehabilitating.  Photo by Greg Lemon

Becky Kean with the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman holds Bu, a great horned owl that lives at the center. Kean spoke to the students about the various raptors that live in Montana. Bu was joined at River Resource Day by a vulture the MRCC was rehabilitating. Photo by Greg Lemon

“It’s really just a way for us to get those kids out in the field and hopefully inspire them to be in touch with the land and nature,” Ramsey said. “The location was ideal because of the diversity of habitat, with the main stem of the river, numerous wetlands and the dry lands and Silver Springs creek.”
The Ruby Watershed Council is the education and outreach arm of the Ruby Conservation District. The watershed council works throughout the year to engage and educate the public on conservation issues, she said. However, the River Resource Day has become the most fun event the council does.
“We like the idea of having an educational experience that, rather than dividing the schools, brings them together because we all share the same natural resources in this valley,” Ramsey said.
The original motivation behind starting River Resource Day still holds true, said Ann Schwend, who now is a water resource planner with Department of Natural Resources Conservation and a supervisor with the Ruby Conservation District.
Schwend was the Ruby Watershed Coordinator when the event started six years ago. The support of the community has been important to its continued success. Each year the event is held at a different ranch, she said. Now ranches are asking to host the event.
Beyond the educational benefits of getting the grade-schoolers out into the field for a day of learning, River Resource Day promotes conservation, Schwend said.
It’s hard to want to conserve something you don’t know about, understand and enjoy, she said. And despite living in a rural community, many of these kids don’t have many opportunities to actually get their hands dirty during the learning process.
“When they get out and they see it and they do it, it has a lot more value than just reading about it,” Schwend said.

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