New Haven Connects with Nature

Today, Ivette López, Hispanic Access Foundation Intern, shares her experiences at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge as she strives to connect communities to the natural world. 

Over the last few months, I have been closely working with our partners in New Haven to connect youth and families to nature, the outdoors, and their local wildlife refuge. Earlier this spring, the refuge piloted a new program, Owl for a Day, in collaboration with Southern Connecticut State University, or SCSU, as a part of the New Haven Harbor Watershed Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. This program introduces the natural sciences to local New Haven students through an immersive and meaningful college experience at SCSU.

As a part of this program,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff visited each participating school twice and worked with students to introduce topics of New Haven’s unique ecosystems, and how being situated in a heavily urbanized area creates the need for preservation, understanding, and stewardship of the natural spaces around us. The culminating activity for these lessons was a daylong visit to the university. During this field trip, students completed lab activities associated with the research of the Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies at SCSU, visited the athletic facility and library, and ate lunch at Connecticut Hall with their college student guide. After each field trip, students expressed they felt cared for and appreciated as learners and were inspired to pursue college science at their local university!

1st grade student from Conte West Hills Magnet School learns about the horseshoe crab at the SCSU Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies as a part of the new Owl for a Day Program. (Photo Credit: Ivette López/USFWS)

What is even more exciting is that some of these same school groups had the opportunity to visit their local national wildlife refuge last month! Since last fall, I have been working with 1st graders from Conte West Hills Magnet School and bilingual 6th graders from Fair Haven School who have learned about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge through interactive lessons and trips.

In late May, over 40 students from these New Haven public schools visited their local wildlife refuge at Salt Meadow Unit for the first time. Students enjoyed the beautiful day by taking a nature walk, where we explored the maritime forest, the salt marsh, and scrub shrub habitat, and saw wildlife such as chipmunks and migratory birds.

SBMNWR Ranger Shaun Roche talks about the salt marsh ecosystem to our group! (Photo Credit: Ivette López/USFWS)

At noon, we had lunch in the meadow and continued with the next activities, where students conducted a biodiversity survey, learned about invasive plants, and removed Japanese knotweed from the refuge. Finally, everyone enjoyed playing the habitat loss game where students acted out migratory birds that faced threats such as land development, but were eventually protected by the refuge. Thank you to everyone who helped make the day a success and our partner organization Hispanic Access Foundation for supporting the trip! I am excited to welcome more New Haven families to Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge this summer!

Group photo of students, families, and teachers who visited Salt Meadow in late May. Special thank you to the refuge staff, volunteers, and HAF colleague Michael Bonilla for supporting a fun day! (Photo Credit: Ivette López/USFWS)

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