Emma Levy: Engaging Youth with Nature and Harpswell
By Doug Warren
“Nature, Community, Forever.” The motto of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) neatly ties up the organization’s core mission: connecting people with nature in lasting ways. “Forever” is the key concept, because, while legal agreements are binding, if successive generations lose touch with the natural world around them, all bets are off and something precious could be lost.
Thanks to the efforts of an enterprising and gifted young Harpswell native, however, HHLT has a new tool to help ensure that the connection between nature and the community remains strong through the years. A 68-page, full-color “Junior Ranger Activity Book” will be published this spring that will introduce young people to 10 trails, parks and preserves in Harpswell, while also exploring elements of nature that make these places special and fascinating.
And there will be plenty of fun along the way!
The activity book is the brain child of Emma Levy, 18, a Mt. Ararat High School graduate and Williams College freshman. During the summer of 2015, Emma volunteered at HHLT’s preschool Nature Day Camp and was pleased to discover how excited the youngsters were to learn about the natural world.
She decided to develop a handbook for a junior ranger program, modeled on those she’d enjoyed as a child at various national parks, as the Capstone project for her senior year at Mt. Ararat. The result is a thoroughly researched, very engaging production chock-full of information and enjoyable activities.
For example, the section on HHLT’s Curtis Farm Preserve offers an informative map and description, along with space for junior rangers to imagine what they might see on their visit and a place to list the “treasures” they actually find. Then there’s an explanation of glacial erratics, the scientific term for the giant boulder known as “the Pebble” found at Curtis Farm. (There’s also a formula for estimating the weight of that big hunk of granite.) And there’s a detailed look at invasive species that junior rangers might encounter at Curtis Farm and elsewhere, and a clear explanation of the dangers they pose.
“It was definitely a lot of work and rather overwhelming at times,” Emma explained. “But it was very much worth it in the end. I particularly loved getting to trek through the preserves with my mom and dad on countless gorgeous weekends. The time I spent trying to imagine what kids might find most exciting or interesting about that particular spot really encouraged me to experience and explore the natural places of Harpswell in a way I never had before.”
The quality, breadth and accessibility of the activity book should guarantee that youngsters who use it – and their parents – will have a similar experience in the great outdoors. Where else can you find images of various animal tracks, along with a discussion of the impact of soil erosion, and instructions for estimating the height of a tree using only a ribbon, stick and your arm? The “Junior Ranger Activity Book” truly has something for everyone.
The activity book will be available from Harpswell Heritage Land Trust in late May. The book will be sold for $3 to partially cover printing costs. Funding support also comes from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Young people who visit all the properties and do most of the activities can bring the book back to HHLT to receive a certificate and prize.
The junior ranger program is just one of the ways HHLT is reaching out to heighten awareness of the world around us in the next generation. Nature Day Camp, HHLT’s work with Harpswell Community School and the collaborative Harpswell Family Outings give ample opportunities for young people to enjoy and learn about the outdoors.
Emma knows that this is important work being done. “Even though I’ve lived in Harpswell all my life, in visiting the preserves and trails for this project, I realized there are so many lovely, hidden corners of the town that I’d never known about before,” she said. “I hope the activity book encourages future generations of Harpswell kids to discover and explore these beautiful corners, allowing them to foster an enduring love and passion for the natural world and the place we call home.”
Emma is enjoying college life in western Massachusetts, but Harpswell and its unique natural beauty are something special to her. “You can’t beat the Berkshires for sweeping views of purple mountains, but there’s something inherently Mainer in me that needs to be near the sea,” she said. “When I’m back, I’ll go for long walks on the beach while my parents are at work, breathing in the salty breeze and cherishing the bite to the air that means I’m home.”