SRPNEF’s first Nature Education Resource Forum welcomes many teachers

Rob Hicks, naturalist and interpreter with Riverside County Regional Parks and Open Space District, at the Nature Education Resource Forum explains how the elementary school breakout groups will input their ideas on how to better teach children about nature and the environment. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

More than 60 environmentally concerned educators and land conservation officers attended the first Nature Education Resource Forum presented by the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation Saturday, Feb. 29, in Murrieta.

The daylong event held at the spacious Mattson estate near the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve was designed to provide vital land conservation ideas and resources for the educators and conservationists who arrived from Montebello to Barstow.

In addition, it introduced the unique 9,000-acre Santa Rosa Plateau nature reserve and the SRPNEF that provides educational opportunities for young students to learn about the value of being good stewards of the land and nature around them.

Forums purpose

Ginger Greaves, executive director of the SRPNEF, told educators the purpose of the forum was to determine what their needs are in helping their students become more environmentally conscious and how the nature reserve can help them meet those needs.

Austin Linsley, president of the SRPNEF, welcomed the guests and thanked them for joining with the foundation to learning ways they can teach children how to be the best stewards of the land and how the reserve can “provide truly meaningful opportunities for children in this valley to get out and enjoy nature.”

The educators heard from keynote speaker Kathleen Cordes, Professor Emeritus, outdoor author and U.S. trails historian, who talked about how important it is for children to learn about the value and need to preserve the earth and its lands.

“Seeing, hearing, feeling, doing and this is the big thing about nature education,” she began. “All of these things can happen at one time and when you talk to teachers, and many of you are teachers, you know that visualization is how people learn. Some people learn by doing. Some people feel the situation and some people hear.”

She said in nature all of things “are abounding and around you.” However, Cordes, who is also a SRPNEF board member, said there is a concern that the Z generation, as the new tech generation may be called, are sitting around their computers from 5-7 hours a day and even some millennials are not getting out of their homes and into nature as they should.

SRPNEF programs praised

Cordes praised the Santa Rosa Plateau Foundation for their programs in getting today’s children in the surrounding communities out to the reserve to experience nature firsthand.

“What is so important is having courses like we have at the Santa Rosa Plateau and having our Nature Education Foundation doing so many fine things, and so there’s a lot of schools that are taking this on and having an entirely different approach to teaching. It’s very heartening to be in partnership with the schools,” Cordes said.

She said interrelationship between the teachers and the students in the natural environment is very important in their development. She said both are learning, and they are “learning to cooperate and they are learning to explore. These particular things can result in the following: development of the whole child…participant planning, execution and evaluation, Discovery in direct experience. Concepts and ideas. not just facts and a group process through experience. Greater opportunities outside and positive feelings about self. Learning to be helpful to others. Social interaction in a nonconditional setting. Sensitivity with a relationship with nature. Physical and spiritual experiences are infilled. That’s spiritual, not religious, it’s a feeling while being outside.”

Learning about nature

She suggested these things should begin in preschool, and as they progress through the grades, they will be using more and more tools, compasses, maps, telescopes and other scientific things to help their learning and appreciation for nature.

“They find an interrelationship with the subject and the ecosystem. Treating the land with respect. Understanding the relationship of resources and to pursue these relationships throughout life. And that’s what’s so important,” Cordes said.

She called attention to the many in the audience affected by their early outdoor experiences with nature brought them to become teachers and land conservationists. She cited her own experiences that brought her to teach about nature, write about the trails of America and the National Parks.

Needs discussed

Following the speakers’ presentations, the participants broke into five groups depending upon their grade levels and community interest in learning and teaching about their environment. Each was asked to write what they thought they are doing now, what are their needs, what stumbling blocks are they facing and what is their long-term vision in teaching about nature. The groups spread out around the Alma and Trish Mattson estate grounds to discuss their ideas and make suggestions on how to use and improve nature studies with the group leaders including members of the SRPNEF education committee who planned the event. Committee members included chairperson Ginny Kishbauch, Cordes, Rob Hicks, Viginia Hyde, Dr. David Marrett, Mary Nickerson, Nature Education program coordinator Jamie Parsley; Greaves and Chris Rios. Helping with the discussion groups were Diana Vaca from AmeriCorp; Kathy Blakemore; Heather Covington; Leslie Gregory, Suzanne Machamer; a National Charity League International representative; Guy Romero; Dave and Marie Seymore and Jeanine and Pete Stambersky.

Exhibitors visited

After luncheon provided by Panera Bread’s Murrieta restaurant, the educators fanned out in the meeting room to visit with the exhibitors at the event including: California Fish and Wildlife; Lakeshore Learning; Metropolitan Water District, the co-sponsors of the event; Murrieta Public Library; Pathfinder Ranch; Riverside County Office of Education/Climate Corps Fellows, who publicized the event; Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency; Riverside County Parks and Open Space District, who manages the reserve; the SRPNEF; Sierra Club Santa Margarita Group; U.S. Forest Service, Trabuco Ranger District and the Western Science Center in Hemet.

Marion Barberry, teacher from Skyview Elementary in Perris attending the forum, said, “I thought it was a great networking opportunity to meet up with local organizations and are able to finish the curriculum in the classroom.”

She said there are a lot of resources there she will take back to her students.

Attendees comments

Another teacher from Citrus High School in Redlands said, “I thought it was very well organized, and I enjoyed the conversations I got to have with Guy (Romero) who was our presenter of the program and I thought the application was great. I would love to bring my kids down to the plateau, but it’s not feasible because it is so far from where we live.”

Otherwise, she called the forum “awesome.”

Parsley gave the closing statements, urging the educators to support the foundation and their efforts to better teach children how to be good stewards of the plateau, nature and the planet.

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is located at 39400 Clinton Keith Road in Murrieta. The visitor center has been closed since the devastating Tenaja Fire that swept through about a quarter of the reserve last year, but some of the trails recently reopened and more are expected to open soon, according to Riverside County Parks and Open Space naturalist Rob Hicks.

Donations are welcome.

The SRPNEF and its many volunteers have been helping with the burn area’s rehabilitation and are still planning to open the annual Summer Concert Series fundraiser beginning in July. Donations are welcome to help with the reserve’s fire rehabilitation and for the SRPNEF scholarship and third-grade nature programs again soon to resume. Donations may be sent to the SRP Fire Fund or by attending the Saturday, May 16, Rooted In Nature Craft Festival at Marna O’Brian Park in Wildomar or buying tickets to the 2020 Live! At the Plateau Summer Art and Concert Series. See for information and tickets.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at