Many South Shore fifth-graders receive a unique science lesson each year.
From January through March, the U.S. Forest Service leads an environmental education program called Winter Trek, in which volunteers and Forest Service employees teach a classroom’s about winter survival techniques of animals in the area.
For about three hours the children watch a slide show, participate in hands-on discovery and walk around the Tallac Historic Site on snowshoes as they identify animal tracks. The program teaches how animals adapt, migrate or hibernate to deal with the changing seasons.
Winter Trek creator Michael St. Michel said students from as far away as Oakland, Calif., and Fallon, Nev., have participated in the program since it started 13 years ago.
“The word is definitely out,” St. Michel said. “The snowshoes are kind of the hook. We have a lot of repeat teachers and they say it’s one of their better field trips.”
Winter Trek guide Gay Eitel has been helping with the program for most of its existence. She said the three months of Winter Trek usually book within two or three days.
“We’ve taken a lot of fifth-graders through the woods,” Eitel said. “The program teaches the children that we have a responsibility to protect these animals. It helps them to be more responsible citizens of the environmental community.”
Linda Wysong’s Tahoe Valley fifth-grade classes have participated in Winter Trek for the past four years. Wysong said she uses the program to teach more about environmental education. Her fifth-graders then paint murals, write poems and put on a play for the kindergartners.
“(The students) love (Winter Trek) and they love being out in the snowshoes,” Wysong said. “We kind of take it for granted that we live in the snow and lots of kids don’t. It is a unique opportunity to see a lot of their own environment. The Forest Service really does reach out into the schools.”
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A $20,000 fine and permanent ban could eventually await those operating vacation home rentals in Douglas County without a permit.