National Wildlife Federation rewards conservation efforts at Heritage Elementary
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Through a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Heritage Elementary students will get a hands-on opportunity to learn about native ecosystems and wildlife.
NWF CEO Collin O’Mara and staff from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge presented a $2,500 Schoolyard Habitats grant to Heritage Elementary School’s staff and students during a ceremony via Skype on Thursday, February 26.
Heritage is one of only 24 schools nationwide, and two in Colorado, chosen for the grant, which will be used to plan, establish or modify habitats at the school to replicate ecosystems at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal refuge.
"Heritage hopes to work with wildlife refuge employees to create a garden to attract pollinators and plant native grasses," said Heritage Principal Alisa Pauley. "Students will plant items that relate to their science or social studies curriculum."
"This area will further develop into an outdoor classroom space for all of our students to experience environmental studies and other integrated content in a hands-on, sustainable way," Pauley added.
The school already has a vegetable garden and a chicken coop on school grounds and was recently recognized for its conservation activities. In May 2014, Heritage became a Green Flag school, the highest level of accomplishment in NWF’s EcoSchools program.
"Having a national wildlife refuge nearby is a great chance for students to take advantage of a wealth of expertise and to see firsthand the kinds of landscapes they will shape," said Kevin Coyle, NWF’s vice president of education and training.
"The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge offers school children in the Denver and Boulder area an opportunity to see and study nature as it was 200 years ago. There are few places where such a wild place is so close to a major city," Coyle added. "It shows the abundance of wildlife, native grasses and wild features that drew Native Americans and European settlers to the area."
For Tom Dougherty, the partnership among NWF, the Fish and Wildlife Services and the schools is another milestone in the quest he and others launched after cleanup and reclamation began at the site where chemical weapons and pesticides were once produced. The idea to turn 15,000 of the acres into a wildlife refuge took hold as wildlife, including bald eagles, moved into the huge open spaces. More than 330 species of wildlife, including bison, deer, coyotes and burrowing owls, make their homes there.
"The Rocky Mountain arsenal refuge is providing shelter for wildlife and a one-of-a-kind experience for Denver-area residents, some of whom might not otherwise get a chance to enjoy nature," said Dougherty, the former regional NWF executive director and a former NWF board member. "It was gratifying to have been part of making the refuge a reality and it’s gratifying that it can be a source of inspiration and learning for our young people."
"Connecting kids with nature is essential to their health, intellectual development and happiness, and inspiring the next generation of wildlife conservationists. The National Wildlife Federation is excited about partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the schools on this project, which touches on so much of what’s important to NWF’s work, including expanding conservation education and expanding habitat for wildlife,” O’Mara added. “This program and other education efforts will help shape the conservationists of tomorrow and show people how much the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands have to offer."
Follow this link to learn more about the NWF Schoolyard Habitats program.