Playing Around in Oregon’s Dunes

Amidst the abundant beautiful scenery found in Oregon, the dunes are definitely at the top of the list. Stretching approximately 40 miles north from the Coos River in North Bend to the Siuslaw River in Florence, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) is a great destination for anyone to visit and experience a picturesque landscape. The recreational area encompasses the dunes, forest, and ocean in such proximity that it almost seems too surreal to be true. Many people wonder and ask, “Where did the sand come from? Or, “How was the beach formed? What a great question. It all came to be by a process that took millennia to occur. The sand came from the coast mountain range. As rocks tumbled down into stream and rivers, they were broken down and abraded into fine sand grains. Tides and wave actions moved the sand to the beach, and the strong seasonal winds blew it up on the shore and further inland. It’s not static; rather, it’s a dynamic landscape that is at the mercy of the seasonal winds and water. Strong winter and summer winds blow the sand into large dunes or completely destroy them. There are some forests and wetlands here and there, but they usually fall at the prowess of the sand that swallows the land. This has been ongoing for thousands of years (then nonnative plants were planted back in the early 1900s and completely disrupted the process, a story for another time.) The ODNRA is rich in history, and has a lot going on for it: the threatened Western Snowy Plover population, invasive European beachgrass and scotch broom, geological features, etc. It’s a gold mine for interpretation and education outreach. And, thus, a perfect transition to what I did this week!

 

Where the sand, forest, and ocean meet!

 

I and fellow field rangers Vicki Penwell and Madison Goforth conducted field trips for second graders at the Oregon Dunes! We worked together on the same station on Monday and Tuesday. However, Wednesday was a much longer day that held more activities, and we broke up to manage a station each. My station was the Snowy Plover game! No surprise there that I got the bird station :). I was excited. I had the opportunity to teach second graders about ecological succession, conservation strategies, anthropogenic effects…….*record scratches*. Wait a minute. *reviews the topics I wanted to cover*. Whoa! Do second graders know what those terms mean? Is that language too advanced for them? Should I take a simpler approach? And thus we came to an integral part of interpretation: knowing your audience. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Each audience may vary greatly, and we must know how to act accordingly, adapt, and cater to all different types of people, from second graders to adults and from people who know nothing about conservation to professionals in the field. It’s a lesson I’m starting to grasp, but there’s still much more to learn. So, back to my second graders. It was time to come up with a new approach. My plan was to keep it very simple and use pictures to teach them about Snowy Plovers.

 

My soon-to-be audience. How do they pass the time while the adults plan the day? By digging!

 

At my station, I used pictures of Snowy Plovers to educate the second graders on their life history. I taught them how to identify male and female Snowy Plovers, and talked about nest building, courtship, incubation, chick rearing, and dangers they face. My approach was simple and short, which was ideal for my audience. I mean, have you tried to capture the attention of 10+ second graders for more than 30 seconds?? Talk about challenging. Though, I feel like it was a success. Hearing their “whoaaa” or “I didn’t know that” reassured me I was on the right track. After giving them my lecture, it was time to really immerse them in my lesson with a quick little game. Oh yea! It was time for them to be Snowy Plovers!

 

Park Ranger Vicki doing the first group before it was passed on to me.

 

The game is simple. The second graders were split into two groups. One group represented the Snowy Plovers, and the second was threats they face (i.e European beachgrass, dogs off leash, ATVs, people, etc). The game took place within an approximate area of 20’X50’ which represented a protected area for the tiny shorebird. The goal of my “Snowy Plovers” was to reach the other side, pick up a chick card, and run back to the start line WITHOUT getting tagged by the threats. They had a broken wing card [FUN FACT: Snowy Plovers pretend to have a broken wing to distract predators that get too close to their nest, to draw them away. Once they traveled far enough, the plover drops the act and flies away.] which served as a get-out-of-jail card and allowed them to keep playing. However, once this card was used, they would have to give up their chick card if they were tagged once more (the response that was evoked from the second graders at hearing this was great; they gasped and clutched their cards closer. Haha. So cute.). There was a total of three rounds and a new threat was added with each subsequent round, with a total of three threats to contend with by the third round. For the most part, everyone had a blast. The air was filled with excitement. I mean, come on, what 2nd grader doesn’t like playing tag? Their smiles and boisterous play time was great. At the end of the game, I called them back and recapped what we learned. I highlighted the increase in challenges with the additional threats, and compared it to the increased pressures the plovers face as they lose precious open sand and gain more threats.

 

GO GO GO! Avoid those threats. What second grader doesn’t like a game of tag…err…I mean learning about avian conservation.

My plovers at the start line and threats (kids with the sign) inside the boundaries.

 

This repeated twice more with the remaining groups and thankfully ended with similar results, fun! For the most part, the kiddies recalled most of what I taught them. Considering their young age and the challenge of keeping their attention, it was a triumph. After Vicki, Madison, and I finished, the second graders were allowed free play time in the dunes. My gosh! Where do they get their energy? Nonetheless, it was a great time. Another event, another success, and another opportunity to learn and improve my interpretation skills. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a break after all that excitement. This area looks nice. *plops into sand*. *internal thought* Gosh, there’s so much sand in my boots. *stares off at the expansive dunes*

 

PRO TIP: Keep your eyes on second graders. Otherwise, they’ll sneak up on you and attempt to bury you in the sand.

Edder Antunez
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