When Lindsey Hendricks sees a 10-year-old boy listening intently to the wind blowing through the trees or a cicada buzzing in the air, she can’t help but smile.
As a teacher/naturalist at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center just south of downtown Phoenix, Hendricks conducts nature classes for students in kindergarten through 12th grade with the goal of bringing students closer to nature. And thanks to the assistance of Salt River Project, she is able to reach hundreds more each year.
“Seeing the kids interact in the environment – it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that they don’t often get,” Hendricks said. “I’ll ask them to close their eyes and absorb the sounds of nature. The smiles on their faces are priceless.”
Opened in October 2009, the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center is a nature center in the heart of the city of Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, which is a 600-acre park along the Salt River. The center is a gateway to a lush Sonoran riparian habitat used by more than 200 species of birds and other wildlife – beavers, muskrats, coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails and javelinas – to name a few.
SRP supports the center’s efforts to educate students and the public about water management and riparian ecosystems because of its role in delivering water to central Arizona. SRP’s contribution to the center has resulted in two programs that bring students and the public closer to nature.
First, Water’s Changing Journey program allows the center to host free, two-hour school field trips for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. During these outings, students learn about riparian habitats and from where water comes, how to conserve water, how to protect our water supply, and how their everyday choices affect the future of the reliable supply of water in the Valley. The sessions also correlate to state standards in science.
Students enjoy the personal connections with nature that they would not otherwise have. And, as a result they say that they will make a change in their living practices to help protect the future of water for the Valley and their environment, said Hendricks, who has worked with Audubon since 2008 and started teaching full time last November.
In addition, SRP is also a major sponsor of the upcoming Enchanted Trail, the Audubon’s annual fall festival, where the public – not just students! – is invited to get an up-close look at nature at night. The sessions are offered from Oct. 19 to 21 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
“They get to explore nocturnal animals and critters. My 4-year-old daughter got to see a great horned owl up close last year,” Hendricks said. “This is an amazing place for people to learn about nature. We are a few miles from downtown Phoenix, but we are on the Salt River and we are able to educate the public about two habitats – desert and riparian. They get a sense of a connection with nature. They get their hands dirty and see animals they’ve never seen before.”
For more information about the Water’s Changing Journey field trips and Enchanted Trail, log onto www.riosalado.audubon.org. For more information about SRP’s education programs, log onto www.srpnet.com/education.
Patty Garcia-Likens is a media relations representative for Salt River Project.