Cornell Cooperative Extension Hosts Conservation Field Days

Students from Westfield Academy and Central School look on as Michael Williams, left, and Bob Richter, right, explain the importance of boating safety. P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb

BEMUS POINT – For the 51st consecutive year, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County has paired with local schools and volunteers to teach area students the importance of environmental conservation.

Known as Conservation Field Days, the two-day event concludes today and is held at the Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center in Bemus Point. In total, over 1,000 students will attend from over 16 different school districts.

Emily Reynolds, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County executive director, explained the nature and importance of the event.

“It’s an opportunity for fifth graders in Chautauqua County to come learn outside of the classroom walls,” Reynolds said. “We teach all aspects of conservation and have 32 different stations with volunteer instructors on a range of topics, from soil, to fishing, to trapping, to beekeeping and many, many more.”

The event was founded by James Gould, former Cornell Cooperative Extension educator, in 1966. It was held at Long Point State Park until 2011, when it formally moved to its current location.

Although there are 32 different stations covering a myraid of conservation topics, each student body visits seven of those stations for a period of 20 minutes each. As example, some stations include: fish farming, fire safety, the water cycle, bird migration, maple syrup production, wild turkeys, forestry, predator-prey adaptations and grape growing in Chautauqua County.

Each station is spearheaded by a local volunteer. Some volunteers represent local organizations, such as Molly Howell of EatSmart NY, but many are simply passionate about their given topic, such as Elaine Crossley, who operated the station: bluebirds — our state bird.

“We strive to have the kids leave the event with a better understanding of the world outside of the classroom,” Reynolds said. “The opportunities that are out there — it’s a career focus too. So the kids get to see seven different people that have hobbies or careers in conservation. It’s important to see how taking care of nature is actually taking care of ourselves.”

One such career-oriented station was hosted by Dan and Shauna Anderson, highlighting their Alpacaville alpaca farm and its conservation practices.

At the station, students from Pine Valley Central School learned that there are two different varieties of alpaca — suri and huacaya — and that alpaca fleece can naturally grow in 26 different colors. Alpacas can grow 5-10 pounds of fleece per year, its fleece is three to five times warmer than wool and it is hypoallergenic.

David Wilson, Field Technician for the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District, lead a station explaining the importance of best agricultural practices. At this station, students from Falconer Central School were taught the connection between trees, topsoil and water in the prevention of erosion, and how it takes nearly 1,000 years for nature to produce a single inch of topsoil. Wilson also outlined how only the very top layer of three percent of the earth is suitable for growing produce, and how that percentage decreases every year due to poor conservation practices.

In a hobby-related station, students from Westfield Academy and Central School were taught boating safety by Michael Williams and Bob Richter at a station presented by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. Both Williams and Richter engaged the students in an entertaining but serious manner about the importance of well-fitting personal floatation devices while boating. Other boating safety practices, such as established float plans and always using sunscreen, were also highlighted.

Upon the conclusion of the event, students will have an opportunity to enter into an essay contest through the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District. Cash prizes will be award to the top three essays.

For more information on Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County and its other events, please visit www.chautauqua.cce.cornell.edu.

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