Dallas Zoo’s youth volunteer coordinator Courtney Crawford (and her teen volunteers) guest-blog on ZooHoo!
The Dallas Zoo’s Youth Volunteer program is in year No. 28, and it’s been a huge success, with more applicants than spots. As the youth volunteer coordinator, I’m always looking for ways to help our volunteers gain new experiences, learn more, and prepare them for their futures after high school. I truly believe “my” kids are going to be agents for change in our environment, and an inspiration to future generations.
So I decided to take an elite group of 10 youth volunteers off-site for a trip filled with fun, educational experiences, away from the hubbub of the city and a little bit closer to nature. Our destination: Glen Rose, Texas. This soon-to-be annual trip is called Nature Bound, and here’s a firsthand account of our adventure, written by the teens themselves:
We arrived at the Dallas Zoo on Monday afternoon and waved goodbye to our parents as we packed up the big Dallas Zoo van, headed for Glen Rose. The ride there was about an hour and a half, so we all talked and really got along well. When we arrived at Fossil Rim Wildlife center, we headed to the Children’s Animal Center, where we had a blast with the adorable goats and emus.
Afterward, we went on an amazing tour of the park. We went behind the scenes to see the Attwater’s prairie chicken. We learned that it’s one of the most endangered birds in Texas, and Fossil Rim is a part of the breeding program to help bring their numbers up. The chicks were incredible!
We also got to see (and smell) the maned wolves, a naturally musky and unique species native to South America. After learning about the species at Fossil Rim and what they are doing to help, we went to dinner before heading back to the cabins for some sleep.
The following morning, a few of us rose early to watch the sunrise and catch a view of some wildlife, while a couple of the groggier teens waited until breakfast. Soon we set off for Dinosaur Valley State Park, where we met staff members Nicole and Candace, who told us about their education and how it prepared them for careers in conservation. We toured various areas of the park and learned how each department worked together to run the park.
Next, we moved on to do some trail maintenance, lopping off wayward branches and vines while clearing litter from the path. Maintaining the trails keeps the land clean and keeps people safe while hiking. Afterward we broke for lunch, enjoying a brief blast from the past as we played on the swings and climbed rocks like little kids. Our next project was cleaning out a patch of invasive Japanese honeysuckle. We learned the importance of native plants and animals and how invasive species can affect the environment.
That evening, we returned to Fossil Rim and ventured into the park for a night tour. Armed with flashlights, cameras and a bucket of feed, we toured the park yet again, but this time we noticed new things. Some of the animals who had been much more active during our daytime tour seemed to be a little sleepier, while others who were hidden away in the trees during the day paid our tour van a special visit during the cooler evening hours. One of those was the elusive bongo. Many people drive right past them during the day, as they blend in easily with the forested corner of their pasture. But in the quiet of the evening, the bongos came right up to our van! It was so cool to see an endangered species so closely.
After returning to the cabin, we had a campfire and s’mores before doing some serious stargazing. The sky in Glen Rose was completely filled with stars and planets! Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were visible.
Wednesday morning, we packed up the cabins at Fossil Rim and headed back to Dinosaur Valley State Park to partake in our final project for Nature Bound. Nicole and Candace taught us about citizen science and how we can help scientists identify plants and animals in the area. They split us into two groups. One group searched for different species of birds, while the other sought out different species of plants, using the app iNaturalist to upload photos and location information.
We concluded our experience with final remarks from Nicole and Candace about the future of conservation and careers in environmental science. Soon after, we began our trip home. Exhausted from the past two days’ activities, the ride back was a little quieter than before. Upon arrival, we said our goodbyes, knowing that this was not the end of our journey to a more sustainable ecosystem.
We were honored to be given a glimpse of how our efforts can create a thriving environment for wildlife across the globe. We were introduced to possible careers relating to environmental conservation, and the friendships we forged made the experience ever more enjoyable.