Driftless Area Ambassadors Program looks to connect people with nature

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A nature photography workshop taught by local photographer Kat Busse will be one activity people can participate in as part of the Driftless Area Ambassadors Program. The program is facilitated by the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette to connect people with nature. (NIT file photo)

Another activity kids can participate in to earn their Driftless Area Ambassadors badge is a pottery workshop. (NIT file photo)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre in Marquette has launched the Driftless Area Ambassadors Program in an effort to help both children and adults connect more with nature.

By partnering with other environmental education efforts in the area, it is hoped participants will develop a sense of place and earn the Driftless Area Ambassador badge by learning about their local environment, intimately connecting with it through personal interactions and positively impacting the Driftless Area through personal projects.

Wetlands Centre Director Katrina Moyna said the Wetlands Centre Board felt it was important to champion the program because, these days, kids spend less time outdoors.

She cited some damning statistics: According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Centers for Disease Control, kids are six times more likely to play video games than ride a bike. Per the Environmental Protection Agency, people, on average, spend 93 percent of their time inside, whether in buildings or vehicles.

Today’s youth can also recognize hundreds of corporate logos, Moyna added, but are hard-pressed to name many local plants.

“That’s even true for me as an adult,” she said, “and I work at a nature center.”

People can officially become Driftless Area Ambassadors by meeting several requirements. Each person must attend and participate in three free play activities at the Wetlands Centre or its partner sites throughout the year. The Wetlands Centre has dozens of activities planned, including snowshoeing, learning how to trout fish, a campout event, youth pottery workshop, dinosaur day and youth outdoor photography workshop. A full list of events can be found on the Centre’s Facebook page.

Ambassador hopefuls are also asked to participate in three educational events through school or other partners in order to better learn about the Driftless Area. Some organizations partnering with the Wetlands Centre include Effigy Mounds National Monument, Maiden Voyage Tours, the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Osborne Nature Center and Big Spring Trout Hatchery.

Following each activity, the participant will be asked to write briefly about what he/she enjoyed or learned about. 

Finally, participants must complete a special project that positively impacts the Driftless Area. This can be anything the individual is passionate about, explained Moyna, listing  a wild edibles cookbook or rain barrel as possible ideas.

If these requirements are successfully completed, the individual receives a badge and is eligible to participate in a field trip, which Moyna hopes will involve canoeing.

 “This program has something for everyone. I want this to be as big to people as a sports team,” Moyna said. “I want a kid to say, ‘I have this frog in my back yard. What do you have?’ They can try to top each other.”

In addition to getting people outdoors, Moyna hopes the Driftless Area Ambassadors Program will help participants appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the Driftless Area and the diverse history, wildlife, plants and land formations it has to offer.

“You could explore for days and find new stuff,” Moyna said, adding that the program will also bring the public’s attention to why the area is important and why preserving it is important, especially for threatened species like the cerulean warbler or monarch butterfly. “I hope some really neat conversations will come up.”

Moyna invites local artists, gardeners, chefs, birders, hunters, fisherman or other outdoor enthusiasts to contact her if they would like to present on a topic. 

“It’s always fun talking to locals,” she said. “They have such a vast knowledge and know the area so well.”

The Wetlands Centre is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call (563) 873-3537, email driftlessareawetlandcentreia@gmail.com or go to driftlessareawetlandcentre.com

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