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Conservation in times of COVID

Organizations provide virtual-to-outside resources

Andrea Denham of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy and Rob Weiner of Michigan State University Extension talk about orienteering in an educational video on the UPLC website. People who watch the video then can apply what they learned in the outdoors. (Photo courtesy of UPLC)

MARQUETTE — Studying a worksheet can lead to fun in the outdoors.

The Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy, based in Marquette, acknowledges education is challenging in the age of COVID-19 and its related restrictions. So the UPLC, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, has created a video series and accompanying worksheets to teach people about the outdoors.

According to the UPLC, the preserves featured in these videos are just a small portion of the 6,264 acres in the U.P. that are permanently protected by the conservancy.

UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham called the project “a way to try to continue getting people outside and learning from nature, even though none of us are doing in-person events right now.”

She said UPLC usually hosts monthly hikes, walks, talks with experts and presentations while MSU typically puts on field trips and in-class demonstrations.

The need for these events, though, is ongoing.

UPLC and MSU Extension, she said, put on hybrids of webinars and outside work called BioBlitzes this summer.

The organizations then decided that type of learning would be good for students and teachers.

Denham said the newly made videos are geared to people who suddenly find themselves involved in online teaching and don’t want kids stuck in front of a computer screen all day long, folks who want to extend the learning to the outdoors, or homeschoolers. They also can appeal to teachers who want to take their classes outside as much as possible before winter.

“We’re trying to kind of do these things to provide that environmental education — that we normally would be doing in person — virtually,” Denham said.

And with the way COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Michigan, she believes more online learning will be used “sooner than later.”

“I’ve been working over the summer to do a whole bunch of filming about tree identification, how to use a map and compass in the woods, tracking,” Denham said. “We’ve really just gone out and gotten a bunch of footage, and now we’re putting it together in a series of short videos.”

Those videos, she noted, run about 10-15 minutes each and focus on activities such as using a dichotomous key to identify trees. A worksheet is provided with each key.

“We actually went out to the woods and identified some of those specific trees in hopes that people can watch the video, learn how to identify the trees and then go out to the Vielmetti-Peters Reserve and go find them,” Denham said.

The Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve is located in Negaunee Township and is overseen by UPLC. The reserve is a 123-acre working forest with nearly four miles of trails for people to explore. It features small waterfalls at the confluence of Midway and Spring creeks on their way to the Dead River.

Another video focuses on how to use a compass to navigate in the woods, also known as orienteering. Denham and Rob Weiner of MSU Extension talk about the activity in the video.

“I know I was intimidated the first time I used a compass,” said Weiner, who pointed out that learning the five basic parts of a compass — dial, magnetic needle, index line, inner arrow and direction of travel arrow — allows people to properly use a compass.

To simplify their lesson, the two used just three parts and gave then nicknames: the direction of travel arrow, or “Fred; the inner arrow, or the “shed“; and the magnetic needle, or “red.”

A compass challenge course, Denham said, was set up in the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve.

“The worksheet has the clues and the directions for how to do it,” Denham said. “We’re hoping, again, that people watch this 15-minute-long video and download the worksheet and go out to the Vielmetti-Peters Reserve and try out the challenge course and see how they do.”

Not everyone, however, has a compass. Fortunately, compasses can be lent out for the activity, she said, and contactless pick-ups or drop-offs can be arranged.

The video already is attracting nterest. Denham said it has received about 150 views on YouTube and even more on Facebook.

“It’s actually getting a good amount of traction, and we’re hoping that as we show that this series is going to keep happening, that more people are using it, I think we’ll get a little bit more going with it for for this next one,” Denham said.

More of these environmental education videos are expected to be available.

Denham said MSU Extension and UPLC are hosting a series of three webinars in late October that teach how to read the history of the local landscape and provide practical tools to take back into the woods so people can learn what has shaped the land around them.

The webinars will feature a panel of experts in regional ecological history, geology, and local and regional history. The keynote speaker is Tom Wessels, a terrestrial ecologist and professor emeritus at Antioch University and author of six books, including “Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England.”

Wessels will expand on the previous talks and apply them directly to local Upper Peninsula and Lower Michigan spots, such as the Vielmetti-Peters Conservation Reserve and Chocolay Bayou Preserve in Harvey.

The webinars are free and open to the public, although advance registration is required. Recordings and slides will be available on the UPLC website after the live sessions, and locations spoken about in the sessions at UPLC preserves will be marked so participants can check them out after the webinars.

For more information on the videos and webinars as well as educational resources, visit uplandconservancy.org.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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