Outdoor Education returns to the Sagehen Creek Field Station
It is a clear, crisp morning at the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station. In the meadow, frosted blades of riparian Switchgrass glisten in the sun and there is not a breeze in the air. Some deciduous foliage has started turning, announcing that fall has arrived. Raucous Steller's jays chase each other from tree to tree, and in the distance, an Osprey glides stealthily though the sky, eyes fixated on the ground beneath as it hunts for prey. Slowly, cars begin pulling into the parking lot. One by one, the doors open and the air begins to fill with the chatty banter of 5th grade students from Truckee Elementary School who amble over, backpacks in hand, to be greeted by a team of SWEP field instructors, prepped and ready to lead them on an exciting day day of outdoor learning, science experiments, and discovery.
The Sagehen Outdoor Education Program is a unique outdoor-school experience where 5th grade students learn about the local Tahoe Region, and develop their sense of place during a series of field study activities led by SWEP and Tahoe Institute of Natural Sciences. Sessions include unique programming in the fall, winter and spring. Fall and spring field days are held at the Sagehen Creek Field Station, while winter sessions take students trekking on snowshoes in wild land areas near their respective schools. The objective of the program is for students to learn about the Tahoe Forest, the Truckee River Watershed, and the plants and animals that exist in these environments throughout the seasons.
From lessons about the adaptations of native animals, nature immersion activities, sensory hikes, creating nature art, learning about trees, soil science, birding and entomology, to exposure to career pathways, catching and observing macro-invertebrates, and monitoring the water quality of Sagehen Creek, the experiences that await the students are varied and plentiful, making for a full day of interesting field work. Against the gorgeous backdrop of the 9000-acre Sagehen Experimental Forest, this immersive learning opportunity is truly unmatched for students.
Candy Blesse and Kathy Echols are the superhero-founder-volunteer duo that has been running the Sagehen Outdoor Education Program since its inception in 2007. Their commitment goes not without notice. Both former 5th grade teachers, they understood the value of this quality programming for students. Thanks to their vision, passion and commitment, we have been able to provide this first class, hands-on, experiential learning program to local students for 16 years.
When the Sagehen Outdoor Education Program first came to fruition, it was a multi-day experience. Students slept in cabins on-site for two nights, dined in the common hall, and engaged in outdoor learning during the day – providing them a glimpse of a day in the life of environmental scientists at field stations like Sagehen.
"From the beginning, our mission has been to get kids outside enjoying nature and learning about their beautiful mountain environment. Our hope is that once the kids learn to love the environment, they will take care of it." - Candy Blesse & Kathy Echols
Unfortunately, due to various challenges, including organizing chaperones, arranging transportation, and the covid pandemic, overnight fieldwork is no longer a possibility. In fact, from 2020-2022, SWEP was not able to bring students to the field station at all because of changing protocols. During that time, program adaptations including virtual and classroom lessons, and excursions to areas within walking distance to schools were an effective solution – a pandemic pivot – to continue to be able to offer this vital program to students. This made the return to Sagehen in the fall of 2023 an even sweeter experience!
Perhaps we can return to the overnight experience at Sagehen one day. For now, field instructors, students and teachers alike are thrilled to be back in action at the field station.
We thank the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District (TTUSD) and Placer County Office of Education (PCOE) for supporting SWEP Programming.
We thank our partners, the Sagehen Outdoor School, UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, as well as Candy Blesse and Kathy Echols, for their commitment to bringing this
unique, relevant, and vital outdoor education program to local students.