Call it pond learning.
In the span of 30 minutes on the last Saturday in June, the first Heart of the Gila Watershed Education Program at The Nature Conservancy’s lush Mimbres River Preserve introduced children and adults to creatures and more unusual plants than most people will see firsthand in an entire year.
Half a dozen children aged 1 to 9 and several of their adults carpooled or met on the morning of June 26 off NM 35 with Patrice Mutchnick, founder and director of Heart of the Gila, the educator of outdoors Andrew Dahl-Bredine and Outdoor Equity Coordinator Elysha Montoya for two purposes: to learn about riparian ecosystems and to play.
Bonus: It was also about 10 degrees cooler by the river than in the nearby desert terrain.
Montoya, who said she intended to become a music therapist after graduating from Western New Mexico University in social work, said she was comforted to see the children enjoying the “river adventure” of Heart of the Gila.
“I care about the kids in our community, and it gives them a chance to get out to the river,” Montoya said.
Compared to Middle Fork and other sections of the Gila River, she said, the Mimbres are more accessible to families who live in Silver City, and particularly in the mining district. There are several recreational opportunities along the Mimbres Corridor, at least two of which are protected wildlife areas.
Like The Nature Conservancy’s Mimbres River Preserve, the Mimbres River Ranch near Faywood – a former cattle ranch that the state acquired from the New Mexico Land Conservancy in 2014 and turned into a wildlife management area – offers a surprisingly lush and diverse nature experience in the same riverine valley.
The more than three-hour tour included opportunities to learn multiple outdoor skills, such as making ropes with yucca plant fibers. The children each wrapped their Saturday morning with a yucca fiber bracelet tied around their wrist after vigorously pounding the pulp of the yucca leaves with a stone, twisting the remaining fibers into a braid.
A nesting robin or baby bird sat on a branch inches off the ground next to a path, as the children speculated on where its nest was.
“I saw hundreds of little orange bugs walking in a line,” Cruzito Castillo told the Daily Press as he went to lunch in a tent by the river. “And I want to go swimming.”
Dragonfly larvae and caddisfly larvae, both of which stick together a cocoon-like shell of whatever material is available – in this case, flat pebbles from the bottom of the river – were just a few of the specimens. fascinating animals that the children have collected under the duckweed lining the banks of the Mimbres in the afternoon, where some areas of calm water also provide breeding grounds for the federal Leopard Frog Chiricahua.
With children gathered on their hips, Mutchnick was careful to point out a breeding ground for chiricahua leopard frogs at the edge of a pond, and took the opportunity to show the diversity of habitats that exist along the tiny area. riparian.
“Duckweeds are the smallest flowering plant there is,” Mutchnick told the children, who by the end of the day were more busy splashing around in the river with members of their own species than check the facts. But it’s true: duckweed is the smallest flowering plant in the world. And that ?
“Duckweed floats!” Exclaimed 9-year-old Zadrian Baker, whose father, David James Baker, told the Daily Press that he was delighted to see his son playing outside with other children after being locked up for most of the day. last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we all spend more and more time in front of screens and looking at our devices, I think it’s important that we put ourselves and our children in the natural world,” he said. “Heart of the Gila helped us do that. “
Saturday’s event was a bit short of attendees due to last minute cancellations, but Heart of the Gila will be offering two more free guided outings for children and their companions this summer: one on July 17 and another in August. , on a date to be determined. Transportation is available.
The “river adventures” are part of the organization’s outdoor equity program, which is funded by a state grant. The aim of the program is to involve 60 participants from the mining district and surrounding areas, the majority of whom are children aged 6 to 12 from single parent families, but all are welcome. Contact Patrice Mutchnick at heartofthegi [email protected] or Elysha Montoya at 575-590-7575 for more information. Visit heartofthegila.org to learn more about the group’s mission.
Geoffrey Plant can be contacted at [email protected] press.com.