Continuing to grow our Public Outings + Youth Education program

July 27, 2023

Posted in: News Articles

 “These field trips were absolutely amazing! All the staff knew so much about the ecosystems they were in and were able to answer questions while in the field… After the first lesson my students were already asking about when we would be having more! – 7th grade science teacher, Santa Rosa Middle School 

Earlier this month, our Board of Directors approved $1.7M for the next three years of our Public Outings + Youth Education program. For over 20 years, we have partnered with Sonoma County community-based organizations to offer public outings, youth education, and workforce development programming on natural and working lands conserved by Ag + Open Space. 

We are thrilled to continue this work with LandPaths, the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, and the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, while also welcoming Friends of the Petaluma River as a new program partner. Serving over nearly 8,000 community members a year, this program offers on-land and virtual hikes and experiences, classroom visits, field trips, and workforce development opportunities.

A group of elementary school students are sitting on the ground, facing away from the camera and several are raising their hands in response to the field trip leader standing in front of them. Everyone is wearing cold weather clothes, and the sky is overcast with grey cloud. Behind the group is a green marsh.

A field trip at Sears Point (our Dickson Ranch easement) with Sonoma Land Trust.

This round of contracts will see Ag + Open Space working with partners on programming that centers equity, inclusion, and justice in land conservation, while also developing new ways to connect the public with privately-held conserved lands. Over the next three years, you’ll see outings designed for LGBTQIA+ community members, increased opportunities for those with mobility limitations, and expanded bilingual (Spanish/English) programs.

Public outings range broadly, from gentle hikes on Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve to partner events with other community-based organizations that offer culturally relevant family outings at Alman Marsh. Outings also take place on privately-held conserved lands, from the agricultural Burns property (otherwise known as Open Field Farm) west of Petaluma to the Keen property near Sonoma. We’ve also increased stewardship focused outings, particularly with the Laguna Foundation who offer stewardship days where participants help with long-term restoration projects that include removing invasive plants and planting native species.

Youth education experiences are designed as a series of classroom visits and field trips that help connect what students are learning in school to the natural world around them. Field trips with LandPaths and Sonoma Resource Conservation District to farms and open space properties connect students to local ecosystems and food systems. Teachers consistently note that these programs are critical complements to their environmental education work in the classroom.

A landscape photo of a small group of people walking away from the camera, while on a hike. They are wearing cold weather jackets, pants, and backpacks or hiking poles. The trail is dirt, and lined with green short grass. The trail leads through a stand of oak trees that have no leaves on them.

A hike at Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve with Sonoma Ecology Center.

Though the last three years of this program were greatly impacted by the pandemic, our partners quickly adapted to include virtual experiences. By continuing to offer both on-land and virtual experiences, we have seen the ways in which online programs increase accessibility with translation and captioning tools, and also present a path for people to learn about conserved lands even if they aren’t able to visit them due to difficult access and mobility limitations.

Through part-time paid positions, stipended internships, and career pathway exploration programming, local high school students can work for Sonoma Ecology Center at Sonoma Garden Park, help lead outings with Sonoma Land Trust, and explore careers in agriculture with Sonoma Resource Conservation District.

We’re excited for the years ahead, and hope you’ll join us soon – stay tuned to our social media and eNews to stay up-to-date on outings and other special events!