GARNA Gets Youth Thinking About the Outdoors

By Maddie Interdonato

3/1/19 - The Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), has been a crucial partner to AAI since 2016. We share a mission of providing meaningful educational experiences to youth. While AAI serves mostly in the San Luis Valley, GARNA is based in Salida and serves Lake and Chaffee counties. GARNA wears many hats as they provide volunteer opportunities to community members, facilitate youth programs in and out of school, and hold Nature Explorer camps each summer.

The official mission of GARNA is to inspire a conservation ethic by providing educational opportunities and experiences so that those who live, work and play in the Upper Arkansas Valley are motivated to take care of the natural resources and leave a legacy of responsible use of the natural environment. They collaborate with many environmental groups such as the Fish & Wildlife Association, Forest Service, and other local organizations to make the outdoors more accessible to youth.

GARNA’s Youth Ecological Literacy Program (YELP) provides hands-on learning experiences that enhance what science teachers are already doing in the classroom. These programs could be school-based or out-of-school. Typically, the school-based programs are during regular school hours and these can look like full day field trips such as to Brown’s Canyon National Monument, or going into a biology class and teaching a lesson on genetics based on animal adaptations.

On Fridays, Chaffee County youth do not have school so it is up to places like the Boys and Girls Club or Salida Recreation to fill that gap. GARNA provides out-of-school programs that relate to local ecology or sustainability to ensure the kids are still learning and being engaged when they aren’t in school.

Youth cannot learn just by being taught a lesson. Taking what they learn in the classroom and enhancing that through hands-on experience - taking them outside and just letting them be kids - is beneficial to learning.
— Darci, AmeriCorps Member

One of our AmeriCorps members, Darci, serves directly under the GARNA Youth Coordinator, Emily, to help develop curriculum, plan logistics, facilitate school-based trips and enrichment programs.

“We are inspiring the future stewards of this land,” Darci explained. “If they are not inspired and if they don’t have a connection to even their own backyard, they won’t see the importance of having clean water, open space, public lands, healthy forests, and more. We are just trying to inspire these kids to get involved and hopefully even take a career in these fields one day.”

Through environmental education, GARNA envisions a generation that is environmentally literate and makes choices to support the well-being of healthy ecosystems in the Upper Arkansas Valley. Learn more about GARNA on their website, here.