Cultivating Conservationists: Partnerships Connect Young Ohioans with Nature
Community-based partners engage the next generation in conservation.
In the spirit of “many hands make light work,” The Nature Conservancy (TNC) teams up with community-based partners to engage the next generation in conserving nature around Ohio. However, the work involves much more than removing non-native plants, clearing trails and planting trees. These efforts also invite teenagers and young adults to forge a lifelong connection with nature that only comes from spending time in it.
Involving young people in our work not only builds stronger communities, it cultivates conservation leaders who will be critical to the future health of our planet.
“Working in nature can fill a void left by a lack of access to green spaces and outdoor educational opportunities, or limited knowledge about potential jobs and long-term careers in conservation,” says Amy Holtshouse, TNC Ohio director of conservation. “Involving young people in our work not only builds stronger communities, it cultivates conservation leaders who will be critical to the future health of our planet.”
Learn more about how TNC in Ohio is engaging youth and young adults in conservation by reading about our projects below.
Human Beavers: Restoring Headwater Streams in Northeast Ohio
Stream restoration can prove cost prohibitive and resource intensive, often requiring bringing heavy machinery into sensitive ecosystems. But Nature Conservancy staff in northeast Ohio are drawing on inspiration from nature for a cost-effective solution to combat erosion caused by increased flood events.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park boasts a myriad of terrestrial and aquatic habitats but it’s perhaps most well-known for the river that flows south to north through its center—the mighty Cuyahoga. Thanks to its turbid history of catching fire throughout the early 20th century and its subsequent comeback story, the Cuyahoga River has enjoyed global attention. But the many streams that yield its water deserve equal praise and attention.
Like veins that pump blood to the heart, small streams are the force behind healthy rivers. After rainfall events, water flows first through this network of small headwater streams before finding its way to larger bodies of water. Unfortunately, rain events, intensified by climate change, have grown more frequent over the last decade, resulting in increased headwater stream erosion and ultimately sedimentation of our waterways.
In northeast Ohio, Nature Conservancy staff are finding unique ways of restoring these headwater habitats. Throughout summer 2021, Andrew Bishop, northeast Ohio restoration manager with TNC, worked with Cleveland Metroparks and American Conservation Experience (ACE) to design, construct, and install 186 log jams in headwater streams. According to Bishop, these log jams are designed to mimic the natural accumulation of woody debris and organic material that are key to capturing soil and nutrients and improving water quality and wildlife habitat downstream. “Designing a low-tech solution that is both economical and scalable was key,” says Bishop. But there are other benefits too, he continues. “Apart from being so cost effective, I love this project because people are the magic recipe here. You don’t need to be a big organization or have millions of dollars to make an impact. While we could have contracted out this work, we instead chose to partner with ACE, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing rewarding environmental service opportunities for youth and young adults.”
With just hand tools, materials found on location and sweat equity, conservationists are helping inspire the next generation of land stewards.
Learn more about the Human Beavers project by watching the short video below.
Getting Their Hands Dirty: Habitat Restoration through Service Learning
As a global pandemic crippled the nation in early 2020, seven members of Groundwork Ohio River Valley’s (Groundwork ORV) Green Corps went to work removing bush honeysuckle, winter creeper, privet and other invasive plants from 20 acres at the TNC Ohio Stream and Wetland Mitigation Program's Jacoby Branch Project to prepare the landscape for restoration. Based in Cincinnati, Groundwork ORV employs young adults from urban neighborhoods who are interested in exploring careers that promote the environment, social justice and civic engagement.
"Working with TNC at Jacoby Branch has given our urban conservation corps the opportunity to get out of the city and feel connected to something bigger,” says Groundwork ORV executive director, Tanner Yess.
Groundwork ORV also supports a Green Team comprised of teenagers who are curious about nature and willing to participate in plantings, composting and other activities in their communities. The Green Team serves as a pipeline for the Green Corps, where members earn a living wage while building valuable skills necessary for pursuing a career in conservation.
“We worked with the Groundwork Green Team to introduce Cincinnati public school students to our Edge of Appalachia Preserve where they compared a healthy stream—full of crawdads, frogs and fish—with a creek located in a more urban setting near their schools,” says Rich McCarty, the preserve’s naturalist.
Each year, McCarty helps students connect with nature through field trips made possible by a partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, adding, “Some of these kids have never been in a forest, so just being out in nature is amazing to them.”
Science In Nature
At the Morgan Swamp Preserve in Northeast Ohio, TNC Ohio lead volunteer and retired schoolteacher, Janet Grout, stepped in to establish an outdoor education program after learning that local students were underperforming in science.
“I believed that part of the solution existed within minutes of their schools,” she says, in reference to TNC’s Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center, built in 2017 and the first of its kind in Ashtabula County. “As teachers, we know that the best way to learn something is to experience it.”
Since then, Grout and a team of volunteers—many who are also retired schoolteachers—have transformed the nature center, located at the preserve’s Grand River Conservation Campus, into a community resource and destination for more than 750 students ranging from pre-K to high school seniors.
"The Nature Conservancy is a hidden gem in our area and my students look forward to taking a field trip there every year,” says Lindsay Stanek, a 5th grade teacher at Grand Valley Middle School. “The hands-on STEM activities and multi-ecosystem hikes represent learning experiences that connect seamlessly with our school district’s science standards while giving our students wonderful memories that they will surely cherish for a lifetime.”