Paul Salek, a fifth-grader at Milan Village School, learns about watersheds at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

Paul Salek, a fifth-grader at Milan Village School, learns about watersheds at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center. Photo by Cheryl Senter.

You can do a lot more outside

Appalachian Mountain Club program teaches the science of the natural world

A group of fifth-graders has gathered near a footbridge in Crawford Notch above a fast-moving tributary of Ammonoosuc Lake. They record the time, signs of animals and inspect for pollution.

Then the nets come out, and 10-year-old scientists charge up and down the streambank, in the laboratory of the woods.

These students from the Milan Village School have been studying watersheds in school. Now they are staying for three days at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center continuing that study, thanks to a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Foundation’s Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, which supports programs for youth in the region.

Fifth-grader Paul Salek likes the program.

“You can do a lot more outside instead of just watching TV all day,” he said. “You can build forts, you can hike, you can examine things.”

Meanwhile, by the stream in Crawford Notch, the collection box is filling with water bugs, sand, river rocks. The pH of the stream has been tested, its water quality index examined. There are young scientists with wet feet, dirt-streaked faces and a scratch here or there.

“There’s lots of research that’s coming out about the importance of the outdoors in people’s lives,” said Andrea Muller, AMC’s North Country Youth Education Director.

And when young people are engaged with their native landscapes and communities, she said, “The more likely they are to stay there, and forge a future there.”

This story originally appeared in the Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report.