National Park Service Partners with Boys and Girls Club to Teach Kids about Nature in Essex County
Contact: Emily Murphy, 978-740-1691
Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem have been the recipients of a prestigious First Bloom program grant from the National Park Foundation. Through this grant, National Park Rangers and the staff of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem have been working with fifteen children to explore nature and the native plants of New England.
Launched by former First Lady and Honorary Chair of the National Park Foundation Mrs. Laura Bush in October 2007, First Bloom was established in tribute to the legacy of another First Lady, the late Lady Bird Johnson, a champion of the national parks and a lifelong enthusiast of wildflowers and the preservation of native plant species. Partners in the initiative include the National Park Service, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and several local boys and girls clubs. The program was launched with an initial $1million contribution secured by ARAMARK through the Yawkey Foundation.
The children participating in the First Bloom programs in Essex County are part of the Boys and Girls Club’s national program The Ultimate Journey, which introduces nature to children through a variety of outdoor activities. “We are having a wonderful time working with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club,” says Sheila Cooke-Kayser, Education Specialist for Salem Maritime NHS and Saugus Iron Works NHS. “We have been able to draw on the expertise of the world-famous Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to train both the National Park Service rangers and staff from the Boys and Girls Club to educate and mentor these young conservationists. The kids are learning about native and invasive plants, then getting their hands dirty removing invasive species, planting native species, and designing gardens for planting in their own communities and neighborhoods.”
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem Performing Arts and Education Director Mary-Ellen Hickey, leader of The Ultimate Journey in Salem, designed the program’s activities with Supervisory Park Ranger Curtis White and Park Ranger Geologist Christine Downs. Since last November The Ultimate Journey children have gone on field trips to Saugus Iron Works NHS, Salem Maritime NHS, Salem Woods and Museum of Science. Ms. Hickey is also encouraging the children to research about native plants and habitats through the internet. They are learning about invasive plants that have disturbed the natural habitat of the Saugus River’s intertidal marsh area.
On March 12 at the Salem Science Night at Witchcraft Heights school the children showcased their native plants, Hibiscus muscheutos, Panicum Virgatum and Iris versicolor in an exhibit and conducted hands-on activities about plants.
In April and May they will be working with park rangers to prepare the nature trail at Saugus Iron Works for the culminating event on June 6. On that day the children from Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem will be joined by 50 other Boys & Girls Club children from Boston, Lowell and Quincy to plant 400 native plants along the nature trail at Saugus Iron Works. The other children have also been participating in First Bloom projects at Adams National Historic Site, Boston National Historical Park, Boston African American National Historic Site, and Lowell National Historical Park. The New England Wildflower Society is growing from seeds the 400 native plants for the event. Representatives from the National Park Foundation will join Salem Maritime NHS and Saugus Iron Works NHS Superintendent Patricia Trap to welcome the children to Saugus Iron Works and to assist them in planting the native plants.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to work with the next generation of stewards for America’s National Parks,” said Trap. “These children are learning about the national parks in their backyards, and the importance of conserving and restoring natural habitats.”