A Summer Spent at the Preserve: How Environmental Education Reinforces a Connection to the Natural World

By Jared Ryan

Welcome to a tour of Jared Ryan’s time as an Environmental Educator at the Center for Inland Bays! For the duration of this tour, we will be exploring the memory trails of his time at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. We hope you’ve brought your binoculars, as this story is destined to include lots of wildlife and wild memories from a summer of education and exploration!

Jared Ryan was the Center’s Environmental Educator this spring and summer 2021.

Follow the Red Trail

The red trail is the most direct path that will lead us to the end of the story, to the destination itself. Jared, a Dagsboro native, began here with the destination in mind, and a journey in heart, thrilled to face the challenges and adventures that would lie ahead. Jared found himself walking through the meadow lined with shells in March, before the earth began to push its flowers and grasses up toward the sky. New life was ready to jump forth once it had been defrosted by the spring sun and Jared, too, was ready to jump into his role as the Center’s summertime Environmental Educator. His sights were set on building memorable experiences through public and youth programming.

Along the Blue Trail

As the months progressed, the Preserve became a home to not only weekly public programs, but to Jared, as well. Whether walking past highbush blueberries and observing their pale white bell-like flowers or watching gigantic pileated woodpeckers feed on insects along the ground, the Preserve always felt like a place of comfort. Guiding guests through the Preserve felt like a privileged experience and it seemed as if each of the habitats began to greet them as honored guests. When he stood on the observation platform on the edge of the marsh, Jared felt as though the maritime forest had embraced him with its branches, that the salt marsh grasses had sung to him in the wind, and that the Bay reflected the sun only to let him know that he was welcome. He was inspired by the beauty of the land and the creatures that inhabited it, but most of all he was appreciative that he could share this with others.

The Center’s environmental educator, Jared Ryan,

leads a group on a tour of the Preserve. Here he points out native blueberry species.

Off to the Orange Trail

Not only did the participants of the programs led by Jared gain new knowledge, but so did the educator. The Preserve is a 150-acre oasis for wildlife and plants alike, making it a prime environment to discover more about nature with each and every visit. Jared felt that even in moments of silence he could learn and grow here. At the Observation Platform that overlooked a field of sporobolus grasses as a group of eight adults participating in the “Birds of the Inland Bays: Marsh Bird” program stood in silence. During that silence, they heard nature speak: Though it was a specific chorus that stood out, birds from all directions called forth to be heard. A male osprey in the sky was calling to let the female know he caught a fish, the clapper rails in the grasses were defending their territories, and while these noises and calls had always been there, they learned that they just had to listen.

Winding Along the Yellow Trail

Not all of the programs Jared led were for adults. During “Kids Days,” the Preserve filled with the excited laughter of children between the ages of 6 and 10. On one particular “Kids Day,” the program focused on different species of turtles found throughout the Inland Bays, such as the elusive Eastern box turtle and its unique coloration. But the best part was allowing the students to embark on their own expeditions along the trails! The challenge of the box turtle scavenger hunt is that the turtle blends in, or camouflages, with dead and dying leaves found in their surroundings. Jared loved using an exploratory method of teaching and learning because it is transferable to so many other aspects of life!

Finding the Green Trail

By having an investigative thought process, you can elevate beyond just connecting with something to truly understanding its importance and context. Jared felt that he truly understood nature best during programs when he was sharing the wisdom of the wilderness with the public. During the “Bay-Friendly Native Plant Tour,” he connected the beauty of nature to native plants and their roles in the ecosystem. This program emphasized native plant species’ roles in supporting the wide array of wildlife here in coastal Delaware, from how the American holly’s red berries provide food for songbirds during the cold months to how loblolly pine needles create ground cover and return nutrients back to the soil to how milkweed supports the entire life cycle of the monarch butterfly. These are only a few examples of how a deeper understanding can help us better connect to the world around us.

Reaching the Purple Trail

Jared walked through the field of little bluestem grasses and reflected on the past few months he spent at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. He thought back to how his time here had connected him with nature, encouraged new perspectives, challenged his methods of sharing his knowledge, and strengthened his understanding of this place he grew to call home. He was beyond happy with his time at the Delaware Center for Inland Bays and how it promoted personal and intellectual growth. He is thrilled to continue learning and growing in the next stage of his life in graduate school at Texas State University as a new set of environmental educators follow the trails he blazed.

But one thing is certain: he will miss the home he made in the Inland Bays.

To learn more about the Preserve and its public programs, visit us online at inlandbays.org/james-farm-preserve.


Posted Under: Staff Blog