Find Refuge

I just applied to make my yard a certified wildlife habitat. I figured I might as well, since the deer have plucked my rosebuds one by one this summer and fall. Really, it’s a small step toward taking better care of the outdoors.

I started the process about three years ago when a group of friends and I removed an extensive pool, deck and pond structure and opened the space to nature. The huge Pin Oak that anchors the space has flourished since then, putting out new growth. I’ve added a perennial border of native plants and shrubs, allowed redbuds, oaks and maples to grow where they will. I’ve composted for a while, raised a bit of food and most recently installed a rain garden with the help of my friend Anne, the Iowa Garden Coach.

It’s really turned the back yard into a refuge, not just for the critters, but for me and my friends. I hope you’ll take some actions to make the world a little greener; here are some suggestions–

  • Take this “Outdoor Bill of Rights” Survey to help the Iowa Department of Natural Resources develop their agenda for getting children and youth opportunities to spend time outdoors.
  • Parents–Check out “Be Out There” at the National Wildlife Federation’s Web site, especially the resources for taking kids outside including Why kids need to play outside
  • The Next Step team was involved in creating this online resource for exploring Iowa–99 Parks Family Fun Guide
  • See what it would take to create a wildlife refuge at your school.

Go Outside!

Last week my friend Anne and I built a “pondless waterfall” in my backyard. I had a great time digging in the dirt, getting muddy from top to toe and watching my little Tater cat explore the waterfall as it came into being. As I built it, I thought about my young friend Isaac playing in it when the weather warms up. Last week I took him to Gray’s Lake to build fairy houses, run in circles and explore a bug with intent wonder. Taking Isaac outside and building a stream are two of the projects I do to get kids outdoors.

Waterfall with Cat

Please complete this survey sponsored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The goal is to find out how much young people like being outdoors and what they enjoy doing there.


Environmentalists across the U.S. are concerned about “nature deficit disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv, to describe what happens to kids when they don’t play outside. Many parents are scared to let their kids play in the park by themselves, but there are real dangers of NOT going outdoors.

  • Join our Facebook Cause–Have Fun Outdoors!
  • Watch this video–Get ’em Outside on YouTube, to get a better understanding of the problem and some solutions.
  • Next April for Global Youth Service Day we are organizing a summit where adults will ask young people to create an outdoor agenda for Iowans, young and old.
  • Read Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods to find out what “nature deficit disorder” is and learn about what happens to kids when they are cooped up indoors all the time.
  • Learn more about the very real dangers of the childhood obesity epidemic and how its roots appear to be embedded in a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Check out the Nature Literacy Series by David Sobel available from Orion Publishing These books help adults overcome fear of the outdoors.
  • Classroom Earth is an online resource designed to help high school teachers include environmental education in their daily lesson plans. It has some great stuff on–
  • Student-led efforts to save energy in schools

Go Outdoors!

The naturalists at Polk County Conservation are some of my favorite people to work with. I’ve facilitated adventure education programs with them, canoed, and learned to use GPS in parks throughout Polk County. Some of the parks make you say, “I can’t believe this place is only 20 minutes from my house!” They work to make kids and adults more comfortable in the outdoors.

The Polk County Conservation staff has facilitated service learning with Chrysalis After-School groups for years–kids like to cut out invasive species. They have taken girls snow shoeing, canoeing, fishing, hiking, geocaching, snow shoeing, winter survival….

You can count on them for innovative programming that involves active learning. They bring all their own stuff for programming like fishing poles and snow shoes, and their programs are FREE all year round but spring and fall are the best times for programs.

Schedule your group by emailing Patti Petersen-Keys or calling her at 515-323-5359.

See Polk County Conservation Surveys

This program evaluation measures progress of clients toward goals of–

  • deeper respect and connection with nature
  • sharing knowledge and experience with others
  • becoming greener in their behaviors around energy and the environment.

Patrice Petersen-Keys, the other naturalists at Polk County Conservation and I have worked on this during the last couple years, here are links to surveys–

and links to the results