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Environmental school students learn hands-on

Susan Wood
Photos by Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School students Delaney Rice, right, and A.J. Marino lend a helping hand in taking a snow survey with Chuck Taylor of the Natural Resources Conservation District.
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TWIN BRIDGES – Sierra-at-Tahoe may have cultivated some budding park rangers or forestry workers Thursday, during a field trip for 56 students of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School.

It was a bluebird day in Tahoe – the kind of clear, blue sky with fresh powder on the ground that would turn any worker or wannabe into an outdoor enthusiast.

The third-graders learned about the culture of Native Americans, snow safety, the importance of trees to the environment and the quality of the snow – which was illustrated in the smiling skiers and boarders whizzing by. The second significant snowfall in a week made for excellent conditions on and off the slopes.

Hence, organizers developed a student’s version of a snow survey staged between the ski area parking lots and the main lodge. Chuck Taylor, a civil engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation District, told the attentive listeners they picked an ideal time to learn how to conduct a snow survey. He boasted the Sierra Nevada’s conditions as posting 125 percent of normal.

“We’re ahead of the game. But we could have a dry season still. That’s why we keep track of it,” he said of the winter season so far. It started out late but roared through Tahoe this January.

“What do you think we measure?” Taylor asked.

“The snow,” the students yelled in unison.

“Why do we care whether the (snowmelt) runs downstream?” he pressed on.

“The fish,” 8-year-old Logan Brewer blurted out.

“Good,” Taylor said. “Who else? How about people who grow things?”

“Farmers,” a young girl answered.

Taylor looked impressed and got the snow survey pole ready for the youngsters to plunge into the snow. He asked for volunteers and half the students in the group raised their hands.

“This information tells us how much water is stored in the snowpack,” he said.

From snow to fire – the students also learned the Native Americans needed to build fires to eat the fish they caught in the streams or the deer they hunted in the forest. The Indian village was established as one of four adventure zones the ski resort has established in the last few years.

“This village is pretty similar to how they lived,” said Sierra worker Scott Parlette, a ski school member.

Tepees were erected with smoke coming out of them. The children weren’t fooled.

“That’s a smoke machine,” one student said. Indeed, it was.

Parlette further tested them.

“How did they make their fires if they had no matches and no lighters?”

The young Brewer boy rubbed his hands together to demonstrate the friction between a rock and stick.

So how did they cook their fish?

Logan pointed to a pole and piped in that they used it “to stick the fish.”

The children also got a lesson about the critters of the forests and the various trees found in Sierra-at-Tahoe’s own backyard – white and red firs; incense cedars; hemlocks; Jeffrey and lodgepole pines.

They also witnessed an avalanche dog demonstration near the Tahoe King chairlift by Kebah, one of Sierra’s three rescue canines.

“Watch as the dog does what it’s trained to do,” said Gary Bell of the ski patrol. Bell explained the dog’s sense of smell is 18 times better than humans’.

“Dig Kebah, dig,” Patrol Supervisor Doug Schwartz yelled to the dog.

In seconds, the wild-eyed students giggled as the 5-year-old golden retriever ripped a glove out of the snow-covered ground to signal finding his mock burial victim.

“Yeah,” they screamed and clapped, as the buried ski patroller emerged.

School teacher Beth Quandt blew a whistle for the children to gather.

“This kind of hands-on experience is what motivates the kids,” she said.

A few of the parents volunteering for the field trip said this kind of practical knowledge greatly enhances the students’ education. One of them was the daughter of John Rice, Sierra’s general manager.

Delaney, 8, said while walking between stations that she’d be open to being a park ranger when she grows up. For now, she’s enjoying classes at the magnet school and skiing. She’s been on the two planks half her life.

Parent Dave Bunnett likes the idea of his daughter, Danica, receiving an education in the environment.

“You know we just got started, but the curriculum is building in that direction,” he said.

This was the third field trip for the students this year. The others were stationed at Paradise Park and Fallen Leaf Lake.


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