Bolivia: Same Schedule, Different Day

It’s 3 am and I’m awake. Again. But rather than navigating a bustling airport, I’m now lying in a small room with little protection from the rooster crowing. Exhaustion to the rescue; I’m not awake for long.

Our first full day in Llapallapani sets the stage for our stay. The stories vary each day, though we follow the same schedule:

During the dry season, this pedestrian bridge is used to cross the deepest flowing section of the river. The community fords the river for vehicles and farms the sections of riverbed where the water has receded.

During the dry season, this pedestrian bridge is used to cross the deepest flowing section of the river. The community fords the river for vehicles and farms the sections of riverbed where the water has receded.

Each day, Dog (yes, that's his name) hung out at the site waiting for his person to return from school across the river.

Each day, Dog (yes, that’s his name) hung out at the site waiting for his person to return from school across the river.

Ishmael's house, which sat across from

Ishmael’s house, which sat across from “the office.” Most of the homes in the village had metal doors, which we were told lent a feeling of security to the occupants. Behind Ishmael’s door sat cerveza and singani for sale.

3:00 am Rooster awakes. Cock-a-doodling commences and repeats every 30 minutes.
6:30 am Alarm beeps. I hit snooze and lay in my sleeping bag another 5 minutes before facing the day.
7:00 am Team assembles in the office and boils water for pour-over coffee (+ coca leaves).
7:30 am Pan delivered for breakfast, which we supplement with food we picked up at the grocer in La Paz. The community member then chooses ingredients from our stores to feed us throughout the day (if Adam and Neil are out, this exchange involves much pointing and gesturing). We go over the day’s work plan as we eat.
8:00 am Walk down to site. Right at the little pigs, right at the big cactus, through the abandoned chapel’s courtyard, right at the large pile of soil (fertilizer?), past the big pig. Get to work.
11:00 am Break for eggs sandwiches delivered to site. Supplement with coca leaves when needed. Back to work.
1:00 pm Break for lunch delivered to site (though one day we eat at a community member’s home). Soup, potatoes, rice and/or pasta. One day we got a rooster heart in the soup—not “our” rooster, though, as he happily reminds us the next morning—Kenny confirms it tastes like chicken. More coca. Back to work.
7:00 pm Sun sets. Wrap-up work for the day (a couple times we work through dark using vehicle headlights), clean-up work site, and store tools in the bodega to prevent theft. As our stay progresses, this lapses into leaving tools in the truck bed.
7:30 pm Dinner delivered to the office. Soup, potatoes, rice and/or pasta (twice we convince the community members to take the lentils from our stores. Yum).
8:00 pm Recap day. Plan for next day. Cerveza and singani (Ishmael’s homebrew). Stories from Neil. Laughter.
10:00 pm Bed. I contort myself up the stairs and pass out.

Different days, same schedule. There’s never a dull moment and always something needing to be done. The task and companions are fulfilling.

Sometimes I’m engrossed in the moment and forget where I am. Wait, Kirsten, look where you are. What’s around you. The impact of your actions. This reality that feels so unreal.

Deep breath (at least as deep of a breath as the altitude allows). Notice the mountains and their colors bleeding bright. Notice the varied vegetation—cultivated and wild—that’s evolved in this climate. Notice the way an engineered vision is coming to life right before your eyes. From your hands. Notice how alive you are in this moment.

If I only learn one thing being here in Llapallapani, let it be the ability to just be. Here. Now. No nagging feeling that I have to do something else. This is my task at this instant. No emails, texts, phone calls needing response. I couldn’t even reply if I wanted to. Remember to enjoy this. It will draw to a close sooner than you realize. This is how content feels.

Note: More photos of the journey can be found here.

Bolivia: Settling into Llapallapani

“¡No! Más a la izquierda!” shouts a woman as we pull our vehicles to a stop overlooking the Luribay River valley. Mairi is a staff engineer for B2P and has been on site for a couple months overseeing bridge construction activities. After arriving we have just over a day to gather as much knowledge as possible about the current status of the bridge before Mairi and two remaining members from Team 1 hand over the reins. Whoa.

The towers erected and some main cables hung. Blue and white for Club Bolivar (the community favorite and on the Llapallapani side) and black and yellow for The Strongest (also Kiewit's colors).

The towers erected and some main cables hung. Blue and white for Club Bolivar (the community favorite and on the Llapallapani side) and black and yellow for The Strongest (also Kiewit’s colors).

Team 2 is six strong and like Team 1 split between employees of Kiewit Construction (the project’s corporate partner and sponsor) and Parsons Brinckerhoff. Our project manager, Tom, has been on site through Team 1’s work and will stay with Team 2 throughout our time working on the bridge (the continuity he provides is reassuring).

It’s a Saturday, so help from community members varies. They have been working on site preparations since starting construction of the pedestals and ramps last November; we’ll get a few helping hands on weekends, but upwards of 20-30 people during the week.

Our party exits the main one-lane road along the river, winding down to the riverbed where the Luribay side tower shines against the dusty landscape. We call it the Tiger Tower, though the yellow and black striping is more of a bumble bee. Give the tiger majesty, though—a more fitting association with the mountains towering above.

The tiger has fleas crawling down it. More specifically, Mark and Chris from Team 1 are climbing down the scaffolding to greet us. Where do I sign up for that job? I do like to climb things.

A quick tour around the site and we learn we’re behind schedule. Scaffolding delivered without a list of parts—let alone instructions—and erecting 2-ton steels towers without heavy equipment will do that (I still haven’t quite figured out how Team 1 raised towers using only peoplepower and an occasional loader and backhoe). Team 2 will get to hang the main cables after all, which means more time to climb scaffolding. Bring. It. On.

Team 1 and 2 together have four weeks to complete a bridge that normally would call for at least six weeks to finish.  Barriers—technical, physical, and social—are bound to factor in throughout the project. They already have. But for now, our focus is on settling into what will become our home for the next two weeks. And it’s welcome: I still haven’t completely shaken the throbbing that’s replaced my brain since landing in La Paz.

The path between "the office" and the bridge. Tom, Adam, Jolene, Kenny, and Jazz (one of our consistent canine companions).

The path between “the office” and the bridge. Tom, Adam, Jolene, Kenny, and Jazz (one of our consistent canine companions).

Llapallapani is nestled up and along the mountainside. We’ll be staying up the mountain about a 10-minute drive from the bridge. It’s the last ride I take up to “the office” until the end of our stay—I end up preferring the walk back, which peels off the road and meanders up the mountainside. Past big pig, left at the large pile of soil (fertilizer?), through the abandoned chapel’s courtyard, left at the big cactus, left at the little pigs.

Various community members band together to house and feed us during our stay. “The office” is a one-room community center that serves as our team’s morning and evening meeting place in addition to the sleeping quarters for the four men on our team. Here, we gather each morning to boil water for coffee (a necessity), discuss the day’s work plan, and wait for breakfast delivery—a piece of pan for each of us.

The other woman on the team and I share a comfortable room across the dirt road in Freddie’s house. Our room is accessible via steep, uneven stairs through a hole cut in the second-floor concrete that requires a not-insignificant amount of body-contouring to get through. I note I must go to the bathroom right before bed to avoid risking a spinal injuring in the middle of the night. I am a giant here.

Ditching our gear in the room, we return to the office to hear what’s in store over the next two weeks. I feel like I’m back in undergrad at a 6 AM basketball practice trying to keep my eyes open while our coach is lecturing us (at least here we don’t have wind sprints, burpees, or other instruments of torture character building). My body has yet to forget its lack of sleep the past two nights: best be getting to bed. Tomorrow is an important day—the last before Mairi, Chris, and Mark leave.

But first I sneak outside to catch the sunset. It’s breathtaking here, in all senses of the word. Welcome home.

Sunset in the river valley.

Sunset in the river valley.

Note: More photos of the journey can be found here.

Bolivia: First Impressions

After two sleepless nights flying across as many continents, I find myself in a world both foreign and familiar. It’s 3am. The air at 4,061 meters (13,323 feet) is notably lacking. Welcome to La Paz.

English is almost entirely absent here, and I’m immediately regretting not spending more evenings on Duolingo, reading Bolivian newspapers, and listening to Spanish music. Attenuating ears and a tired brain interspersing unfamiliar words with high school French aren’t helping.

Adam speaks enough Spanish to get us use of a shopkeeper’s telephone to track down the Airport Shuttle we had reserved. It’s not there, and it’s not on the way. Great.

Already, the combined effects of exhaustion, hunger, and altitude (oxygen shots for sale litter the airport lobby area) are creeping into my head and stomach and all I really want is to be somewhere where curling up in a ball is acceptable behavior.

My advice if you find yourself en route to the highest elevation airport in the world? Full, nutritious meals throughout travel, resisting the urge to binge watch all the blockbuster movies you missed in theater because they’re now at your fingertips during an 8+ hour flight, and investing in an Ostrich Pillow. Address exhaustion and hunger and the body has a fighting chance against the effects of high altitude (re: soroche).

The airport is bustling despite the early hour. It’s obvious Adam and I are not locals. Though countless drivers ask us if we need a taxi, we hesitate while discussing how much one ought to cost. At this point, I can’t think straight anyway.

We’re rescued by a pair of Koreans who approach us with “compartir taxi” written on a smartphone screen. Brilliant. The young woman teaches Korean at a local university and negotiates a taxi ride for the four of us for 80 bs (about $12). Though the 20 minute ride smelled of gasoline and did not include seat belts (a component we soon learn is commonly absent from vehicles here), the ride also included a backseat tour of La Paz narrated by a Korean teacher who speaks enough English and Spanish to communicate with both us and the driver.

I’m reminded of how my single language status is quite stereotypically “American.” Addressing this shortcoming just moved up several notches on my to-do list.

We split the cab ride and thank the two Koreans for their help getting us to our hotel. Kindness knows no barriers; this much is familiar.

Early arrivals and departures must be an everyday occurrence at this hotel. We camp out in the lobby (Adam kicking off his shoes and curling up on the sofa while a continental breakfast is visited by early hotel patrons) until it’s a reasonable enough hour to phone our group lead in his room.

A shower, nap, and some food a while later get me to a state in which I can at least travel. The flying is finished, but we still have a long journey ahead in rental cars through various roadside towns. The anarchic traffic here is complete with minibuses stopping when and where they please. Our escape from the chaos leads us down a steep one-way 60+ switchback mountainside dirt road to a community called Llapallapani.

Just a few of the conutless switchbacks down to the River Luribay valley where Llapallapani resides. It was too steep to capture much of the roadway.

Just a few of the conutless switchbacks down to the River Luribay valley where Llapallapani resides. It was too steep to capture much of the roadway.

What brought us to this isolated village in what’s considered the least developed country in South America? The answer goes back about a year and a half to when a co-worker—as Adam and I both work for the same engineering firm—forwarded us an email about a pedestrian bridge. The bridge was being designed for a remote village in Bolivia by a team of Kiewit and Parsons Brinckerhoff employees working through Bridges to Prosperity (B2P). Construction would be lead by the same two firms. Team applications were open.

As the urban La Paz and El Alto faded into our rearview mirrors, we were soon to find out just why the Llapallapani bridge is the most technically-challenging bridge B2P has undertaken to date out of its hundreds of pedestrian bridges worldwide.

Note: More photos of the journey can be found here.


“The left engine won’t start,” is not something you ever want to hear from your pilot. Fortunately, we were still on the ground when we heard that announcement at 12:45 AM this morning and it was followed by an uneventful flight a couple hours later.

So began our 4-leg, 24-hr flight from Portland to La Paz, Bolivia. As I write, we still have a long journey ahead of us before we can begin the work we set out to do: build a 120-meter suspension pedestrian bridge in the remote valley of Llapallapani, Bolivia, to connect the community to essential health care, education, and economic opportunities. During the rainy season, the river becomes dangerous and residents must walk hours to cross over the nearest bridge. The design was engineered in-kind by employees of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Kiewit. Team 1 is wrapping up tower erection and cable installation as I type. Team 2 (that’s me!) will take their place over the weekend to oversee completion of the bridge, including decking and guy wire installation. We will also be on-site for inaguration, which I’ve heard is a moving and memorable experience.

Equipted with a couple sets of work clothes, my trusty sleeping bag and pad, and all the camera gear to my name, we’ll land in Bolivia in the wee hours of tomorrow morning to embark on an adventure quite some time in the making. We were told not to expect internet, so this is likely going to be my only post before arriving in Llapallapani. I honestly don’t know what to expect beyond a kind community, accomodations outside my normal, and the building of bridges beyond the physical. Oh, and stories. Many, many stories.

And so we go!

Feeling inspired and generous? Support the trip here.

Conservation highlight: White Oak Savanna, West Linn, OR

The outdoors is a classroom. Roaring rivers, snow-capped mountain peaks, and flowering valleys have much to teach about the workings of the world and our place, as humans, within it. Childhood summers spent outside playing, hiking, and camping encourage self-awareness, personal efficacy, and an ethic of care. E. O. Wilson’s work speaks of a subconscious pull that humans feel towards other living things—an innate, biological love of nature he termed biophilia.

Miles Ranch, Livingston, Montana

Miles Ranch, Livingston, Montana

And yet, opportunities for nature-based experiences and learning are becoming less accessible.

Challenges, however, can present new opportunities. The stories of our natural spaces do not have to be heartbreaking. How about heartwarming instead? Encouraging? Inspiring? Living testament to the kindness of humankind? One such story is right in Portland’s backyard.

Over ten years ago, West Linn residents Ed and Roberta Schwarz discovered that a tower of Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) in a deserted chunk of their neighborhood blocked a sweeping view of the Willamette Narrows. That 20-acre stretch between Salamo Road, Tannler Drive, and Blankenship Road is a White Oak Savanna. Over one hundred years ago, the Valley was covered with White Oak, also called Garry Oak (Quercus garryana). Today, it is estimated that less than two percent remains. So when Ed and Roberta discovered their hidden hiking oasis was slated for development, they decided to do something about it.

Oregon iris (<i>Iris tenax</i>)

Oregon iris (Iris tenax). Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

Roberta has championed the effort to save the White Oak Savanna for over a decade now by rallying support throughout the greater Portland Metro community. Her goal? To make the White Oak Savanna into a public natural park and wildlife habitat. The upper 14 acres have been restored and preserved with matching fund grants received in 2009 from the City of West Linn, Oregon State Parks, and Portland Metro. The White Oak Savanna has benefited from over 6,800 volunteer hours stemming from a variety of individuals and organizations, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school and primary students from several schools, church groups, the Northwest Youth Corps, neighborhood organizations, and SOLVE. Most recently, the Schwarz’s dining room table was covered with materials for sending out 10,700 mailings to community residents and businesses in a fundraising effort to match Portland Metro’s second Nature in Neighborhood grant. The $500k grant, awarded this time in 2013, must be matched two-to-one—that’s right, they need to raise $1M by mid-2015 to seal the deal and they are right on track to achieving it. Over two dozen fundraisers are planned for 2014. Metro’s grant and the matching funds will provide the means to purchase the remaining six acres of the savanna for conservation, ultimately preserving habitat that supports hundreds of species—deer, ferns, and humans alike.

The While Oak Savanna in West Linn, OR

The While Oak Savanna in West Linn, OR. Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

You read that correctly, humans. Homo sapiens sapiens. We do, after all, rely on Earth’s ecosystems for our own survival. We inhabit the earth. And there is something cardinal about the physical immersion of ourselves in nature that research is just beginning to capture. Take Dr. Geoffrey Donovan’s research that found a correlation between healthier birth weights with increased access to trees even after accounting for other differences such as socioeconomic status. Or the German biological studies led by neuroscientist Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg that compare the mental health and stress of people living in rural, amenity rich areas compared to those in our cities. Richard Louv focuses on the connection between childhood obesity rates and outdoor play. Then there is Dr. Todd Rosenstiel’s research into the benefits that lichens have on decreasing asthma rates. Google some form of “health benefits of nature” and you will find countless more examples. It all points to what our bodies already know: access to the outdoors is fundamental to our well-being. There is no substitute, no nature pill we can take as a replacement.

View looking down at the Willamette Narrows from the White Oak Savanna after a recent snowfall.

View looking down at the Willamette Narrows from the White Oak Savanna after a recent snowfall. Photo credit: Roberta Schwarz

Health impacts aside, being outdoors is fun! A visitor to the White Oak Savanna can hike the meandering one-mile round trip trail, swing on one of the tree swings, absorb the vistas from one of the ten benches (made of reclaimed wood), listen to the birdsong from one of the over 75 avian species, and witness a deer bound through the grass. With the recent snowfall, an adventurer can add snow-play onto the long list of possibilities.

It goes without saying that the White Oak Savanna is a gift. Roberta and those she has mobilized around the savanna have acceded to the role of stewards of the land. They have accepted the responsibility for its care amongst the hustle and bustle of urban living. With the restoration, they have not only saved a wild place from being paved—their theme song is fittingly Joni Mitchel’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (re: “…they paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”)—they have strengthened the community around it. They are loving and caring for the land. They have planted trees under whose shade they might not ever rest. The story of the White Oak Savanna is one of a challenge-turned-opportunity. It is community-based and it is just getting started.

Indeed, sometimes the gifts we tend to overlook most often are the ones that grow when shared.

The While Oak Savanna is waiting to be explored.

The While Oak Savanna is waiting to be explored.

Project WET, Preschool, and a Summer Sign-off


It’s difficult to believe that I’m already on to my last post as a summer intern at the Project WET Foundation. I have so much to be thankful for—more on that in a moment—including a very fitting close to my time here. Yesterday, Katie, Nicole, and I were able to visit Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT, to help the students through a fun and interactive water-based activity.

Project WET has a “mission of reaching children, parents, teachers, and community members of the world with water education.” They do so through a combination of science-based strategies, including:

  • publishing water resource materials
  • training workshops that focus on a wide range of water topics
  • building a global network of educators, scientists, and water resource professionals
  • organizing community water events

Most of Project WET’s material is geared toward elementary and secondary school students—an age group with which Project WET has found much success in making a significant impact. But there are other critical periods in a child’s educational life, and Project WET recognizes this. For some time now, Dennis and the rest of the Project WET crew have had their eye on expanding materials to preschool-age children. I wrote on the importance of early childhood environmental education in a previous post; in summary, the early childhood years are an important time in development and thus education. However, not surprisingly, the biggest limiting factor holding Project WET back from producing preschool-aged materials—such as Little KIDs Activity Booklets—is funding.

Funding aside, our experiences with both Pilgrim Preschool and the younger age group in general speak well to Project WET’s ability to translate its materials into an approachable format for 2 ½ to 5 year olds. Katie, Nicole, and I used the “The Rainstick” with the preschoolers to explore water and its importance in our lives. The activity covered factual, scientific, and cultural information about rainsticks, how to build them, and a story that illustrates how water is life. Here’s what some of the children had to say during the activity:

  • “Desert? How do you live without water?”
  • “We drink water!”
  • “Water is used to wash.”
  • “A small apple floats in water but apple seeds sink.”
  • “You can’t make a rainstick from paper, it needs to be hard!”


If it wasn’t obvious from the children’s comments, the preschoolers were engaged in the activity and had a blast. They shared many stories and insights about water and listened carefully to the story of a boy who discovered how to capture the sound of rain. Many children made comments similar to the one about apples and apple seeds—turns out early this week they learned about sinking and floating (so they listen!) We wrapped up the activity by working together and using their newly-crafted rainsticks to make a rainstorm and build up to a thunderstorm. Some of the parents were even there to listen. It was one of the most joyful rainstorms I’ve been part of!

While at the preschool, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that this is what it’s about. Teaching children about water and leaving with new lessons of our own. Learning is not unidirectional, but a continual dialog that perpetuates and feeds itself. Learning is contagious. And the preschoolers’ enthusiasm and interest was contagious indeed.

I think the experience at Pilgrim Preschool is an illustrative example of the importance of Project WET’s work. One of my earlier posts discussed why we ought to care to conserve water and why we ought to act on that calling. This is one significant reason why: children of today, tomorrow, and the distant future. Their curiosity and wonder are interwoven with their actions. Education at a young age propagates through the child and into the future as she or he grows up and into adulthood. And what wonderful seeds to plant at a young age—seeds of curiosity and wonder, kindness and love.

Source: Animator Frédéric Back.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to be part of the Project WET Foundation this summer. Project WET has provided an avenue for translating my education into a meaningful and measurable impact. Knowledge in itself is a worthwhile endeavor, but when we can use our education for the betterment of society—in however big or small of way—education becomes lasting. In a way it’s like author Nelson Henderson’s insight: The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. We may never again see (or see in the first place) the children reached by Project WET, but the impacts are lasting and real. And I think that’s what strikes me the most about my experiences with Project WET—the working endlessly to make a difference in lives of people we may never meet. For Project WET, that is done through worldwide water education. It varies in the how, but each of us has the power to make an impact in our own ways.
I want to thank the entire Project WET staff for welcoming me so graciously into this family and for sharing all the valuable experiences over the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed my work, which included:

  • contributing content to and reviewing Project WET materials for publication
  • authoring weekly science-based and reflective blog posts (like this one!) covering various water-focused topics
  • researching and composing executive summaries on topics as background for publications and proposals
  • developing funding proposals and identifying potential funders for future Project WET materials



School and basketball both start up again shortly, and there’s much to look forward to in the upcoming year. I can’t commit to the weekly posts I’ve been writing during the summer, but I do plan on continuing to post when I find the time and inspiration on my website. I anticipate continuing to write about water-related topics, as well as other natural resource topics, basketball, and life in general.

With that, I bid adieu for now to Bozeman and this wonderful summer working at Project WET. I offer the following perspective in my wake: When in doubt, make tea.

Bringing the Outdoors In

Last week I discussed the role of early childhood education, particularly regarding environmental perception and action. At one point I mentioned strategies for bringing the outdoors inside the classroom as a way of extending experiences with the natural environment indoors. What I didn’t mention is that my mother is the Director and Lead Teacher at Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT. The program focuses on development of the whole child through experiences in social studies, science, language arts, math, music, and art. I’ve had the delightful fortune of visiting Pilgrim Preschool periodically throughout my adolescence and young adult life. The children are nothing short of entertaining and I always seem to walk away having learned something new.

(Click to Enlarge)The Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

Last summer my mother and I had the idea to paint some of the preschool furniture with plants and animals as a way to brighten up the classroom and bring some natural elements indoors. After some brainstorming, we agreed that I would revive an adorable set of 6 (miniature) wooden chairs by painting them. We started last summer by painting over the original red with a beautiful sky blue. I then made plans to throw a little education in with the art and nature elements by painting one of Montana’s State Symbols on each of the chairs. I settled on using the Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

I figured using state symbols was a simple means to bring part of nature into the classroom in a way rooted in the local landscape. As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, effective and lasting education is most powerful when it speaks to people’s circumstance. And when environmental education is focused locally, it becomes more relevant to a child’s everyday life (Ballantyne et al., 2001; Duvall & Zint, 2007; Zampas, 2011). It is thus my hope with this project that even at a scale as small as furniture in a classroom, a little daily exposure to Montana’s State Symbols just might encourage further exploration into what’s beyond the classroom walls.

Ponderosa Pine
(Pinus ponderosa)

(Lewisia rediviva)

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
(Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi)

Grizzly Bear
(Ursus arctos horribilis)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
(Nymphalis antiopa)

Western Meadowlark
(Sturnella neglecta)

Of course, life moving like it does, it took until this summer for me to actually sit down and do the painting (hence the occasional chips in some of the chairs’ base coats). This past Labor Day weekend provided the perfect opportunity. The whole process took a decent number of hours, so I had ample time to listen to music (found some great new albums) and think. Not surprisingly, I mulled over the whole business of state symbols and what prompted them in the first place.

So I did some digging around.

State Symbols connect the history and culture of a state. They range in categories from land- and resource-centric symbols like those used for the chairs to tradition- and story-centric symbols like State Dance and State Pre-Historic Artifact. Declarations of state symbols, including what categories they cover, is up to the states to decide. Thus, each state has its own unique list of categories for state symbols. Some examples I found surprising:

  • Montana’s State Lullaby: creatively called, “Montana Lullaby,” we have a State Song and State Ballad, too—cowboys and girls like to sing!
  • Oregon’s State Parents: Pioneers Tabitha Moffatt Brown and Dr. John McLoughlin’s aid in the early settlement of the state was enough for this designation.
  • California’s State Folk Dance: dates back to the “Gold Rush Days” when Square Dancing wasn’s the thing to do.
  • Nebraska’s State Beverage: inventing a popular drink can get you a state symbol designation, as Kool-Aid learned following its invention in 1927 in Hastings, NE.
  • Oklahoma’s State Menu Items: there are eleven of them. Buffet time!
  • Alabama’s State Outdoor Musical Drama: The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a historically-inspired drama that takes place in Civil War-era Alabama.

The plethora of state symbols—many of which are a bit obscure and quite specific—speak to the way our country holds on to tradition and unity through a shared, but diverse heritage. They provide a way to identify with a place culturally, physically, historically, or otherwise. While it can easily seem silly to tie such significance to a thing, I would argue it’s more about the connections made through such things.

If it takes a state symbol to get a child interested in the fish swimming through our rivers, then bring on the wading boots. If a person is inspired to learn more about their family history from a state historical symbol, then call up grandma. I guess what I’m trying to say is that each of us has our own path to the things we care about and love and desire to protect. The important thing is getting to that point—and acting on that desire.

Works Cited

  • Ballantyne, R., Fien, J., & Packer, J. (2001). Program effectiveness in facilitating intergenerational influence in environmental education: Lessons from the field. The Journal of Environmental Education, 32(4), 8.
  • Duvall, J., & Zint, M. (2007). A review of research on the effectiveness of environmental education in promoting intergenerational learning. The Journal of Environmental Education, 38(4), 12.
  • Zampas, G. (2011). The role of education for sustainable development in families’ sustainable consumption. Paper presented at the Global Vision, Local Action: Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship, Bournemouth, U.K.


Early Childhood Environmental Education

Source: Sharing Nature Worldwide.

For the child […], it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow […] It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts that he is not ready to assimilate.—Rachel Carson, “Help Your Child to Wonder” (1956)

Source: The Season of Rachel Carson.

In my senior year at Oregon State University, I came across a book by Rachel Carson (1907-1964) called The Sense of Wonder (1965). Originally published in Woman’s Home Companion magazine under the title, “Helping Your Child to Wonder” (1956), the work speaks beautifully to the value of early childhood experiences in nature. The piece turned into the inspiration for my undergraduate honors thesis titled, “Our Natural Family: A study of young children and how we connect with nature.”

As schools nationwide begin to reopen after summer break this week, I found myself revisiting the idea of early childhood environmental education while I helped my mom prepare for another year teaching at Bozeman’s Pilgrim Preschool.

It is important to first distinguish what I mean by early childhood environmental education (ECEE). In this context, early childhood refers to the preschool years typically populated by 2 &frac12; to 5 year olds. Environmental education does not necessarily mean education in formal sense with a teacher, students, and lesson plans (although it certainly can mean this). At the young age of 2 &frac12; to 5 years, environmental education is more responsive to the needs and developmental level when it is focused more on play, discovery, and exploration rather than formal instruction (Armitage, 2007; Boyle, 2006; Edwards & Cutter-Mackenzie, 2006; White, 2006). I use the term more generally to represent experiences with and exposure to the outdoors. Environmental education in this sense includes Rachel Carson’s description of adults sharing a sense of wonder with children:

Source: Monkey Business Images.

And with your child you can ponder the mystery of a growing seed, even if it be only planted in a pot of earth in the kitchen window.—Rachel Carson, “Help Your Child to Wonder” (1956)

Therefore, ECEE captures that critical time before elementary school when children—arguably the most in touch with their natural roots—not only exist in their most impressionable states of being but are also powerful agents of change (Wilson, 1996). The early years of childhood are when most people develop their phobias of and their affections for the natural world (Louv, 2007). Many of the current models of child development suggest a connection between a child’s experiences and the development of their attitudes and way of understanding the world around them. Children, especially young children, learn by hands on experience through which they actively construct their knowledge base (Bandura, 1977; Dewey, 1938; Nye, 1986; Piaget, 1947; Vygotskiĭ, 1998).

Source: Sharing Nature Worldwide.

ECEE can be an opportunity to expose children to the natural world in a way that will encourage positive interaction between the child and their environment through hands on experiences. A caring parent and/or educator can help guide a child towards positive and beneficial attitudes and ways of thinking about nature (Robertson, 2008).

The traditional “Western/European” approach to learning, however, tends to separate children from nature both physically and psychologically. Urban children consequently tend to fear wildland places and feel uncomfortable when surrounded by natural elements (Wilson, 2006). On the other hand, children who consistently experience nature tend to develop more positive attitudes and actions towards it (Wilson, 2006). Reinforcement of nature-based experiences over time is key to fostering positive relationships between children and nature (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). This is evidenced in how many adults with a positive connection to nature can associate it with their childhood experiences.

Source: Orion Magazine.

Early childhood experiences with nature have been linked with the development of creativity, wonder, and imagination and in turn help foster a life-long love of the natural world (Cohen, 1984; Devall, 1984/85; Raglan, 1993; Sebba, 1991; Tanner, 1980; Wilson, 2006). Furthermore, childhood encounters with natural places, such as a forest, have been shown to positively correlate with the individual’s later patterns of use and attitudes towards such places as an adult (Thompson, Peter, & Montarzino, 2008). To encourage such lasting development, children should be provided with consistent access to natural places (which can be a park, urban garden, or even a potted plant in cities), encouraged in natural play activities, and their ways of knowing—which are more rooted in experience than an that of an adult—respected (Wilson, 2007).

Today, however, children are playing outside less and are increasingly disconnected with nature (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010). Richard Louv’s (2007) research on nature-deficit disorder helps establish the importance of nature in the lives of children by connecting the increasing lack of nature in today’s technologically driven generation with many serious and rising childhood issues such as obesity, depression, and attention disorders (Louv, 2005). As more and more land is developed, not only is natural habitat destroyed, but communities also tend to be erected in ways that deter any real contact with nature. This, in combination with several other societal factors such as the rising popularity of video games, is discouraging early childhood experiences in nature (Louv, 2007). The current generation of young children’s physical contact and intimacy with nature is fading; such is the premise of nature-deficit disorder.

But we have the opportunity to alter this course—and there are several great examples out there of ECEE in practice:

Source: Montana Outdoor Science School.

  • Joseph Cornell’s pocketbook, Sharing Nature with Children (1979), provides forty-two games designed to help children learn from nature, to stimulate joy, and to foster insights and experiences through nature for children.
  • The Chippewa Nature Center, Corvallis Waldorf School, Montana Outdoor Science School, and Hopa Mountain all have environmental education programs, including ways to bring the outdoors into the classroom as a strategy for teaching about the natural environment. This can be as simple as choosing play toys made from natural materials, such as wood, over synthetic materials, keeping plants and animals in the classroom, and using pro-nature books in lessons (Wilson, 2006).

Source: Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest.

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts on an annual poetry, essay, photo, and dance contest called the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest. Entries are from teams of two, made up of a young person and older person, with the intention of working across generations to share their interactions, reflections, and sense of wonder “for the sea, the night sky, forests, birds, wildlife, and all that is beautiful to your eyes.” This year’s 2012 contest focused on water to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
  • The Nature Nursery, a preschool from central Alberta Canada, centers its curriculum on a nature-based theme. Young children participate in dramatic play, crafts, books, games, and outdoor exploration. The idea is to connect children to nature and the environment.
  • Early Childhood Australia (ECA), the country’s national association for early childhood educators, released a Code of Ethics in September 2008 that includes a requirement for its educators to encourage and educate children so that they understand their place as global citizens with shared responsibilities to both humanity and the environment.

Source: NAAEE.

So there are examples and success stories of ECEE taking form and action. In fact, the Project WET Foundation has had plans to expand its Kids In Discovery series (KIDs) activity booklets to include Little KIDs activity booklets for preschool-age children (funding is, not surprisingly, the roadblock). As programs like those highlighted in this post grow in popularity, I look forward to environmental educations programs becoming a normal part of school curriculums, rather than the exception.

Works Cited

      • Armitage, K. C. (2007). ‘The Child is Born a Naturalist’: Nature Study, Woodcraft Indian, and the Theory of Recapitulation. Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 6 (1), 43-70.
      • Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
      • Boyle, L. (2006). Environmental Experiences in Child Care. Putting Children First (19), 14-17.
      • Cohen, M. J. (1984). Prejudice Against Nature. Freeport, Maine: Cobblesmith.
      • Devall, W. (1984/85). A Sense of Earth Wisdom. Journal of Environmental Education, 16 (2), 1-3.
      • Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
      • Edwards, S., & Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (2006). Chapter 19: Eco-Literacy and the Content-Pedagogy Relationship in Early Childhood Education. Sharing wisdom for our future, 170-177.
      • Hungerford, H. R., & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing Learner Behavior Through Environmental Education. Journal of Environmental Education, 21 (3), 8-21.
      • Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
      • Louv, R. (2007, March/April). Leave No Child Inside. Orion Magazine.
      • Nye, R. D. (1986). Three psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers. Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
      • Piaget, J. (1947). The psychology of intelligence; translated. [Psychologie de l’intelligence]. London: Psychology Press.
      • Raglan, R. (1993). Reading the World: Overt and Covert Learning in Environmental Writing for Children. Journal of Environmental Education, 24 (4), 4-7.
      • Robertson, J. S. (2008). Forming Preschoolers’ Environmental Attitude: Lasting Effects of Early Childhood Environmental Education. Thesis.
      • Sebba, R. (1991). The Landscapes of Childhood: The Reflection of Childhood’s Environment in Adult Memories and in Children’s Attitudes. Environment and Behavior, 23 (4), 395-422.
      • Tanner, T. (1980). Significant Life Experience: A New Research Area in Environmental Education. Journal of Environmental Education, 11 (4), 20-24.
      • Thompson, C. W., Peter, A., & Montarzino, A. (2008). The Childhood Factor: Adult Visits to Green Places and the Significance of Childhood Experience. Environment and Behavior, 40 (1), 111-143.
      • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2010, April 26). Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved July 12, 2010 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
      • Vygotskiĭ, L. S. (1998). The Problem of Age. In The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky: Child psychology (Vol. 5, pp. 187-205). New York: Springer Publishing.
      • White, R. (2006). Young Children’s Relatinship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development and the Earth’s Future. Taproot, 16 (2).
      • Wilson, R. A. (2006, Summer). Environmental Education: Bringing the Outdoors In. Day Care and Early Education, 32-34.
      • Wilson, R. A. (1996). The Development of the Ecological Self. Early Childhood Environmental Education Journal, 24 (2), 121-132.
      • Wilson, R. A. (2007). The Wonders of Nature: Honoring Children’s Ways of Knowing. Early Childhood News.


Source Water Profile: Bozeman, MT

Last week when I was in Santa Barbara, CA, I focused my post on the area’s source water. The natural follow-up is a source water profile of Bozeman, MT.

Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

Bozeman is in the 2,602 sq. mi. Gallatin County, which sits in a scenic valley at the heart of the Rocky Mountains and intersects seven watersheds. The City of Bozeman itself intersects three: the Madison Watershed 10020007 (left highlighted section on map of MT right), the Gallatin Watershed 10020008 (middle highlighted section on map of MT right), and the Upper Yellowstone Watershed 10070002 (right highlighted section on map of MT right).

As explained last week, watershed proper names are followed by a hierarchical string of numbers ranging from 2 to 16 digits called a Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC). HUCs describe the location and identification of a hydrologic area and come from the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) nationwide system for watershed delineation based on surface hydrologic features. Anyone in the U.S. can look up their watershed address using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) online tool for locating and defining watershed addresses.

Bozeman’s water profile can be examined by first establishing “what’s in” and “what’s out”. That is, the people served by the City of Bozeman’s public water supply system (PWS) have different source water than those people outside of city limits. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Public Water Supply Online Query, the City of Bozeman’s water system serves 32,000 people. These 32,000 residents receive their water from three sources: Hyalite Creek, Sourdough Creek, and Lyman Creek.

Source: Personal correspondence with City of Bozeman Water
Treatment Plant Operator
. Credit: RJ Zaworski.

Both Hyalite Creek (51 sq. mi. drainage area) and Sourdough Creek (33 sq. mi. drainage area) are surface water sources and combine for 80% of the City of Bozeman’s water supply source (40% each; see graphic left). Hyalite Reservoir—also known as Middle Creek Reservoir and constructed in the late 1940s before being expanded in 1993—stores water from Hyalite Creek for current and future use. The reservoir is just over 10 miles up Hyalite Canyon and is a popular recreation area for campers, hikers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Sourdough Creek water has not been stored in a reservoir since Mystic Lake Dam breached and was torn down in 1985. Instead, the City of Bozeman’s water system extracts creek water directly from the watershed in Sourdough Canyon. Recent discussions have proposed building a new dam and reservoir on Sourdough Creek to prepare for the growing city’s future water needs.

Lyman Creek, on the other hand, is a groundwater source and accounts for the remaining 20% of the City of Bozeman’s water supply. The creek is located in the southern foothills of the Bridger Mountain range. Unlike Sourdough and Hyalite Creeks, Lyman Creek water is extracted from a fully enclosed spring and is thus classified as groundwater.

These three water sources supply the 32,000 people connected to City of Bozeman’s PWS. But there are about 91,000 (2011 census estimate) residents of Gallatin County. The almost 60,000 Gallatin residents outside the City of Bozeman get their water from groundwater. Other Gallatin County towns—like Belgrade, Three Forks, and Manhattan—have PWSs that rely on groundwater sources. Some use freshwater springs in their supplies, but these are still categorized as a groundwater source for the same reason Lyman Creek is groundwater. In fact, the City of Bozeman is the only PWS in Gallatin County that includes water from true surface water sources.

Finally, the remaining 41,000 (2011 estimate calculated from Montana DEQ’s Active PWS System Data report) Gallatin County residents not connected to established city and towns PWS systems* receive their water through one of two main sources: through a privately-owned well or through a small PWS system.

Source: Personal correspondence with Gallatin Local Water
Quality District Manager and Water Quality Specialist
Credit: RJ Zaworski.

Whether or not a well is privately owned or is classified, licensed, and monitored as a PWS under DEQ hinges on three factors (see chart left): connections, people, and days used. A well must be registered as a PWS if it has 15+ connections and/or serves 25+ people—the PWS must also operate under these conditions for at least 60 days of the year. If a well does not meet these requirements, it is a privately owned well. The distinction between PWSs and private wells matter regarding how they are regulated.

PWSs range in size from the large ones operated by cities to the small ones operated by entities like campgrounds and trailer courts. PWSs are classified into three types:

  • community (C): serves 15+ connections year-round or 25+ people year-round—simply put, it serves the same people every day. e.g., cities and subdivisions
  • non-transient non-community (NTNC): not a community system but serves 25+ of the same people over six months a year—simply put, it serves the same people but not every day. e.g., schools and workplaces
  • transient non-community (TNC): not a community system and does not serve 25+ of the same people over six months a year—simply put, it serves different people every day. e.g., restaurants and motels

    PWS laws and rules can vary depending on its classification.

    Finally, those remaining Gallatin County residents not on any sort of PWS are on privately-owned wells. In stark contrast to PWSs, private wells are not under any regulation from the DEQ. This means water quality testing and monitoring is not required and instead left to the owner’s discretion. While most wells are deep and new enough to likely produce un-contaminated water, some private wells are old and shallow. In either case, it is important private well owners test their water for contamination, which can come in many forms. When a well is deep enough, the groundwater it produces tends to be of good quality—water in Gallatin county rarely has even trace amounts of contaminants like heavy metals and chemicals.

    The risk usually occurs when the well structure (e.g., a well cap) is old or failing and when a well is not dug deep enough. Unfit well structures can leave the water vulnerable to contamination by harmful bacteria, pathogens, and animals. Shallow wells have less opportunity and time to filter out surface water contaminants that seep down into the well. The best way to find out if a private well falls into either of these categories it through water sample testing.

    The Gallatin Local Water Quality District website provides an extensive library of resources for private well owners. The site offers a long list of useful Fact Sheets that cover topics ranging from bacterial contamination in wells to water sampling procedures. The site is scattered with tips about wells, procedures, and tools. There are also directions for testing drinking water quality. Owners can receive discounts on drinking water testing by participating in the Well Educated Program—a program in partnership with the MSU Extension Water Quality Program . MSU Extension also has educational videos for individual well and septic users. And, if online resources still leave questions unanswered or concerns unresolved, give the staff at theGallatin Local Water Quality District a call or email— they are very friendly and helpful.

    (Click to Enlarge) Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    Whether a resident of the City of Bozeman, Big Sky, or other places in Gallatin County, your water comes from either groundwater or surface water. Water is collected, stored, transported, treated, distributed, and recovered through a system of water infrastructure (see graphic above). Water connects us all and is the lifeblood for society. The next time we turn on the tap, remember there is a long, organized water system working to ensure not just the availability of water but its quality as well.

    Where does your water come from?

    Special thanks to RJ Zaworski for providing the wonderful graphics for today’s post.

    *note: the 41,000 estimate was calculated from Montana DEQ’s Active PWS System Data report. The report lists all active registered PWSs in Gallatin County. Only a few cities and towns actually have an established “Town of/City of” PWS—Bozeman (32,000), Belgrade (7,000), Manhattan (1,500), Three Forks (1,800), and West Yellowstone (8,535). The remaining towns and settlements in Gallatin County are supported by a series of smaller PWSs operated by various entities ranging from school districts and subdivisions to ranches and gas stations. Numbers estimates are based on the populations served by each PWS in the DEQ report. For example, the City of Belgrade lists a population of 7,000 connected to their PWS. The rest of Belgrade residents either rely on smaller PWSs or private wells (described in blog text).

    Source Water Profile: Santa Barbara County, CA

    For the past week and a half I have been in Santa Barbara, CA, getting to know my new UCSB basketball teammates (freshmen!) and working out with the team as a whole. As the time approaches for me to return to Bozeman and complete my summer internship at the Project WET Foundation, I decided it would be interesting to profile Santa Barbara County’s source water system. At Project WET Foundation, this type of information contributes to a “water address.”

    Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an online tool for locating and defining a watershed address. The address consists of a watershed’s proper name and Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC)—a hierarchical string of numbers ranging from 2 to 16 digits that describes the location and identification of a hydrologic area. HUCs come from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which has a nationwide system for watershed delineation based on surface hydrologic features.

    Santa Barbara’s source water profile consists of multiple watersheds, namely the Santa Ynez Watershed 18060010 (northern highlighted watershed on map of CA on right) and the Santa Barbara Coastal Watershed 18060013 (southern highlighted watershed on map of CA on right).

    The story doesn’t end there, however. Within each watershed are a variety of sources that comprise a water profile. Santa Barbara County as a whole has a diverse portfolio of water sources that vary by city. For brevity, consider the two cities most directly relevant to UCSB: Goleta (pop. 30,000, 2011) and Santa Barbara (pop. 89,000, 2011).

    Source: “Where Does Your Water Come From?” Credit: RJ Zaworski.

    Goleta has a relatively simple water source portfolio (left). The city gets its water from two sources: Cachuma Lake (93%) and recycled water (7%). In 1953, the federal government funded construction of the Bradbury Dam on the Santa Ynez River. Cachuma Lake rose behind the dam to become Santa Barbara County’s largest reservoir. Tecolote Tunnel stretches about 6.4 miles through the Santa Ynez Mountains and diverts Lake Cachuma water for human use.

    Recycled water is municipal wastewater reclaimed and treated to remove sediments and impurities so it can be reused. This water source is quickly gaining popularity—particularly in urban areas—in large part because it is a local, drought-resistant water supply that helps reduce reliance on groundwater and surface water. Education about the advantages of using recycled water is helping diminish stigmas that have historically limited its use. Goleta uses recycled water for landscaping at some parks, schools, and commercial properties.

    Santa Barbara, on the other hand, has a mix of all five currently active county sources: groundwater (9%), Cachuma Lake (52%), local streams and reservoirs (28%), State Water Project (“SWP”, 6%), and recycled water (5%). Santa Barbara uses Cachuma Lake water and recycled water in much the same was as Goleta. However, with a population almost three times that of Goleta, Santa Barbara uses three additional sources of water. (note: Santa Barbara’s Charles Meyer Desalination Facility, built in 1991-1992 in response to severe drought, is now in long-term storage mode but can be reactivated if needed).

    Source: “Where Does Your Water Come From?” Credit: RJ Zaworski.

    Groundwater is mostly self-explanatory—it is the water accumulated underground in spaces between clay, silt, sand, and gravel that forms aquifers. Groundwater is replenished at various rates (can range from a few days to centuries) as precipitation infiltrates the ground and accumulates above some impermeable layer. Although not the major source of water for Santa Barbara or Goleta, the county as a whole relies on it for almost 75% of total water use.

    Local streams and reservoirs represent the area’s usable surface water, including manmade water stored behind reservoirs and diversion dams. Managing water supply can reduce flood and drought risks because stream flow is stored until needed. Reservoirs can also help replenish groundwater.

    The State Water Project—conceptualized in 1919 and funded in 1960—diverts water from Northern California rivers through the California Bay-Delta and into the San Joaquin Valley. The SWP consists of over 700 miles of canals and pipelines, 34 storage facilities, and can store 5.8 million acre-feet of water. Diverted water is used for agriculture and pumped throughout Southern California for use by over 25 million Californians.

    (Click to Enlarge) Credit: RJ Zaworski, used with permission.

    Whether a resident of Goleta, Santa Barbara, or other cities in Santa Barbara County, your water comes from one of these five described sources. Water is collected, stored, transported, treated, distributed, and recovered through a system of water infrastructure (see graphic above). Water connects us all and is the lifeblood for society. The next time we turn on the tap, remember there is a long, organized water system working to ensure not just the availability of water but its quality as well.

    Where does your water come from?

    Special thanks to RJ Zaworski for providing the wonderful graphics for today’s post.