You Got This! Three Outdoor Classrooms Await in the Genesee Valley
Parents, you’ve navigated the rough roads of COVID-19 crisis for weeks already. Everyone can only imagine how the daily twists and turns affect you and your family. Take a deep breath. You got this.
If you suddenly found yourself as your child’s primary educator for the coming weeks, you’re not alone. Statewide educational organizations are dropping activity ideas right and left, flooding social media with fantastic things to do.
One of those organizations, the National Association of Interpretation (NAI), certifies outdoor educators every year. Before we slip you the inside scoop on secret spots to spread out and explore signs of spring, there are three helpful techniques from NAI’s training you can keep in mind as you make the most of self-guided outdoor education for you and your child.
Be thematic. Start the activity with a ‘moral to the story.’ It can be as simple as ‘moths look kind of gross, but looking closer at their life cycle, most of them are actually very helpful to humans.’
Be relevant. Answer the ‘so what?’ question. Why does the spread of an invasive species like the multiflora rose affect me? It can be as simple as ‘when multiflora rose spreads to the wild, they grow faster than all of the other bushy plants and turn nice forests and paths into a prickly, thorny mess!'
Be hands-on. Hands-on activities ‘stick’ better for every age group. Try to engage as many senses as possible. It might go without saying, but kids probably won’t remember hitting the books for an hour as well as they remember sorting and resorting wildflowers or leaves by color, crunchiness, smoothness, and smelliness, and using those clues to try to identify the plants like a real botanist!
If you are lucky enough to live near the Genesee Valley, you have many opportunities to both leave the house and practice social distancing. Where famous parks get crowded and public surfaces are touched by many people, these three secret spots beat the crowds and still hold opportunities for kids to get curious about their world.
The pike are spawning at Conesus Inlet. Pike and walleye are swimming from Conesus Lake upstream through the inlet to the vast swamp to the south, hoping to lay eggs. Though they can spawn along the banks of the inlet, many try to jump the spillway in the area of the Sliker Hill Road and West Lake Road intersection in Conesus. Cheering them on is an unforgettable way to spend an afternoon and a rare chance to see the largest predatory fish in Conesus Lake up close. Try to spot one that’s over two feet long!
This one is a real local treasure and tons of locals know about it already. So, to practice social distancing as per federal and state directives, your expedition should go early, take turns with other groups, don’t touch the handrails, and hike the trails for awhile or pick a different day if crowds are forming. And spread out all along the flowing inlet! All pike need to spawn is a quiet, shallow spot where their soft eggs can stick to plants and hatched fingerlings can hide. They’re not all clustered at the spillway. Once you’re home from your adventure, check out the DEC’s official info on the pike species of New York State.
York Landing is bursting with frog songs. Over 100 years ago, what now looks like a huge pond was a crucial passing zone and turnaround spot for barges on the 90-mile Genesee Valley Canal that once connected Rochester to dozens of rural towns. These barges were carrying huge loads of agricultural, commercial, and industrial materials that the Valley’s towns depended on in the 1800’s. Though the canal itself was long ago filled in, used as a railroad, and is now a state park and hiking trail, this turnaround still holds water, and many, many frogs. The DEC has a wonderful amphibian identification guide here. Try to pick out the leopard frog’s ‘snoring’ call from the spring peeper’s cricket-like ‘peep,’ and keep an eye out for great big green frogs and bullfrogs that are just crawling out of their muddy winter beds!
Social distancing shouldn’t be a huge issue here. Just don’t touch any public surfaces like the kiosk and map. The best parking is on York Landing Road off of River Road in the Town of York.
Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is waking up. The mix of woods, meadow, and water’s edge makes it a wonderful nesting grounds for birds. Try to find 20 different kinds of birds and identify them using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's app, Merlin Bird ID. Be sure to watch the water, watch the skies, and stand still in the woods every so often to catch a glimpse of tiny birds among the branches. Bring boots…it’s mud season!
This will be one of the best places to socially distance. The state forest is vast, and there are few public surfaces. Still, avoid touching any surface that many others may have touched or held while passing by, and give everyone at least six feet of space when passing them on the trail. The best parking is on the south side of Purcell Hill Road between Canadice Hollow Road and Canadice Lake Road in the Town of Springwater.
I’d say good luck, but you don’t need it. Keep your eyes and ears open. You’ll safely enjoy much, and learn lots!