MOUNT VERNON – Little Mountain Elementary School fifth-graders marched Wednesday morning up the Southern Connector Trail at Little Mountain Park, laughing, telling jokes and stopping every now and then to learn about the forest.
“It’s only recently that people have said we should protect this area,” said Bret Turner, a Mount Vernon Parks Foundation board member.
The excursion was one of several hosted by the foundation, which by the end of the school year will get the 450 fifth-graders in the Mount Vernon School District up the mountain this school year.
“We want to support the use of one of the great resources in Mount Vernon, which is Little Mountain Park,” Turner said. “We want to get students out here who otherwise haven’t been out here.”
Before the hike began, about a quarter of the students in the four elementary school classes said they hadn’t been to the park before.
“We hope that if they come up then they want to come again and bring their parents and bring their brothers and sisters so that more people can enjoy the park,” Turner said. “If more people are enjoying it, more people are invested in protecting it, and ultimately we want to make sure that Little Mountain Park stays a nice park for many generations to come.”
This is the second year the foundation has organized the outings, foundation board member Nikki Klinger said. Funding comes from a Skagit Regional Health grant.
Part of the goal is to get kids exercising and outdoors, said Klinger, who is also a physical fitness teacher at Little Mountain Elementary School.
“It fits right in with their mission and ours,” she said.
A few weeks ago, the Little Mountain Elementary students returned from Mountain School at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center where they learned the basics of being good hikers, including leave no trace, teacher Juniper Carpenter said.
The more they know about hiking, Carpenter said, the more likely they are to get out and experience nature.
“They get to see our native ecosystem, in our own town, in our own park,” she said. “We want them to learn to love the outdoors.”
At the top of the mountain, the students filled out a booklet created by the foundation that helped them explore their surroundings through math, science and language arts.
In some places on the trail, students stopped to measure the length of bridges and the diameter of tree stumps. In others, they looked for levees and floodplains. At the top, Klinger said, they drew their surroundings and wrote poems based on nature.
“They’d much rather be hiking Little Mountain than sitting in a class at Little Mountain,” Carpenter said.