Dirty sneakers, bright futures

This article is taken from GWC’s upcoming FY2012 annual report.  Read on for a sneak peek or check your mailboxes soon.  If you’re not already on our mailing list, send us an email at [email protected]

Caring for the land and Wisconsin’s kids
Things may not be what they seem.

After 40 years of environmental education in many of our country’s schools, kids are loving nature as never before, right? Sadly, today’s youth are actually less interested in the environment conserving resources than previous generations*.

In fact, for adults to care about the land, they need regular contact with nature before the age of twelve**.

“Thank you for showing us the habitats. I liked the bugs and the critters. The water and the woods were my favorite. I would love to go there again.” – School to Nature program participant

With support from GWC, land trusts throughout the state are mobilizing to ensure that there will be generations of kids that continue to share a deep passion for the land as adults. One inspiring example of these efforts comes from the Caledonia Conservancy.

Connecting Kids with Nature

Thanks to the assistance from Gathering Waters Conservancy, Caledonia Conservancy has increased its capacity to introduce more local kids to the magic of the outdoors and strengthen connections to nature through its School to Nature program.

Started in 2009, the Caledonia Conservancy’s School to Nature program works with students to explore the natural world through field trips to the Conservancy’s preserved lands located throughout the Village of Caledonia in southeastern Wisconsin – a corner of the state known for its dense population and development pressures.

In its short existence, the program has welcomed over 2,400 children from area schools, and utilizes the Wisconsin DNR’s Project Learning Tree  curriculum. Many of the kids had not been in the “wilds” of nature before.

“Land trusts have a short and long-term role to play in combating the national trend of childhood apathy toward the environment and conservation,” says Sandy DeWalt, vice president of Caledonia Conservancy and current  chairperson of the School
to Nature Program committee.

Starting small, and growing
To accommodate a program like this, as well as maintain an active land protection program, you might expect Caledonia Conservancy to be a multi-staff operation. But what you’ll discover is that this land-trust-that-could has been all-volunteer led for most of its existence, hiring its first part-time staff person this year.

Many of these kids’ love of learning and enthusiasm for being outside dramatically increases with field trips to these land trust properties. It’s a special program that is reaching a community of kids who may not have other opportunities to explore nature.”
– Jill Baranowksi, retired teacher and School to Nature Program volunteer

“The services that we received from Gathering Waters Conservancy have been invaluable to our growth and capacity,” says Suzi Zierten, Caledonia
Conservancy’s new executive director. “We discovered that we could accomplish more conservation work once our “house was in order,” and programs like our School to Nature program wouldn’t be what they are today without that assistance.”

For one young, recent program participant, it’s less of a technical issue. In his enthusiastic words, “Thank you for the awesome time. I learned so many things like what a Jack in the Pulpit was. I had a lot of fun because I don’t go out in the woods often. Thank you for helping us.”

This coming year, with your support, Gathering Waters Conservancy will be able to assist additional land trusts to build their capacity.

In addition to the support they receive from GWC, Caledonia Conservancy’s School to Nature Program is made possible through the support of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, the Racine Community Foundation, and Racine Junior League.


*Martha Irvine, “Young People Not So ‘Green’ After All,“ Seattle Times, 15 March 2012 (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2017752919_apusnotsogreen.html). To download the full study http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-ofp-twenge.pdf

**N. Well and K. Liekis. 2006. Cornell University study; The Cornell researchers used a sample of more than 2,000 adults, ages 18 to 90, who were living in urban areas throughout the country and answered
telephone questions about their early childhood nature experiences and their current adult attitudes and behaviors relating to the environment. See http://

Photos by Roy Bohn