Tag Archives: stewardship

Columbia Slough Part IV – Environmental Education

My Volunteer Experience

The Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) works directly with several of my passions: outdoor place-based education, service learning projects and stewardship. I volunteered with their Slough School education program, which works with students in the surrounding schools.

volunteerStaff members visit classrooms and teach students  a wide range of topics, such as water quality and native plant species. Students also come to restoration sites to learn in the natural environment. The CSWC provides opportunities for service learning projects (planting native plants), and learning about the eco-systems through water chemistry tests, observing micro-invertebrates, and identifying species and habitats.

                                                             -Whitaker Ponds-Outdoor Classroom-4th Graders-

I volunteered at a community site near Fairview (just off I-84) with a 5th grade class. The students planted native species to beautify the area and create a sound barrier next to a busy road. They also did water chemistry tests to explore Ph, oxygen, and temperature; learning how these things effect water quality.


A couple of the students grew tired of the project quickly, but the vast majority were thrilled to be outside, getting their hands dirty, and helping their community.

One student said, “I wish I could do this every day!”

Since the class wasn’t able to plant all the plants on site that morning, many of the students were asking to return the following day to “finish the job.”  

Almost all of them wanted to stay longer, a testament to the power of placed-based education! 


Many of the field trips take place at Whitaker Ponds, (also the CSWC office site). Students have planted hundreds of native species there this year. I volunteered at this site twice, assisting with plantings, water quality tests, and micro-invertebrate studies.

It’s so great to watch the children become scientists and stewards, enjoying their natural world.

kids planting

If you are a teacher interested in having your class volunteer with the CSWC and creating a plan of study with the Slough School, contact:

Sheilagh Diez, Slough School Education Director
Phone: (503) 281-1132
email: sheilagh.diez@columbiaslough.org

(Note: The program fills quickly. I recommend contacting her spring/summer before the school year begins.)

A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at CSWC for all they do with the community and fostering a sense of stewardship with our youth! It was fabulous getting to know your organization. 

Whitaker Slough
-Whitaker Slough and Canoe Launch-

Note: I encourage you to check out Whitaker Ponds. Located at 7040 NE 47 Ave, a ¼ mile north of Columbia Blvd., The area is a pubic park, with two ponds, a canoe launch into Whitaker Slough and a half mile loop trail. Although it’s a small pocket of nature in the middle of industrial Portland, it’s home to many species. On a recent birding event I attended there, we saw 35 species of birds in just two hours! (FYI- No dogs allowed)

Watch this great 5-minute documentary on Whitaker Ponds – really well done.

Map of Ponds

Suggested Reading Material on children and the outdoors: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv- check it out here.

Want to Learn more about the CSWC and the Columbia Slough? Check out my other posts in this four-post series.

1. Columbia Slough – What is it?

2. Columbia Slough Part II – Natural Surroundings Education

3. Columbia Slough Part III – A Peak Behind the Scenes (The Interview)


Columbia Slough Part III – The Interview…A Peek Behind The Scenes

-Volunteer Series-             The Interview   

Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC)                                              Meet The Employees!                             

Nathan Barrett – Community Connections    


Nathan (above photo-middle exuberant one with other CSWC crew members)  has multiple responsibilities with CSWC, including recruiting and managing the council’s volunteers, assisting in creating a volunteer management plan within the different areas of the organization including: slough school, stewardship and outreach.

Penny Beckwith – Outreach Director   

Penny Beckwith 1                                    Penny has a strong background in event and volunteer coordination, most recently from her work with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Penny has more than seven years of outdoor leadership and group facilitation experience.


I sat down with Penny and Nathan to learn a little bit more about their take on environmental education, their roles at the council, and general CSWC news.


What draws you to the work you do?

Nathan:  In my previous work, I focused on social aspects of community organizing, but not the environmental component. I like seeing the intersect in the neighborhoods between social and environmental issues. Creating a good physical environment in our local communities is important to me, and I enjoy talking with people, so this position is a good fit.

Penny: I was inspired in 6th grade during our outdoor school program to care for the environment. That eventually led me to pursue an Environmental Studies degree. I started as a volunteer for CSWC doing the paddle program last year. I was really re-inspired about water issues, and felt a little discouraged thinking on a global scale, so I wanted to get involved in my local community. Getting kids and families excited with water is easy during the paddle events, so I wanted to extend that.

Why do you think it’s important to raise awareness about the Columbia Slough?

Penny: When I tell people I work here (CSWC), people say, “REALLY?, that’s poo water!” I want to heal that misperception – I want to bring the hook of “it’s a fun watershed!” I want people to know how the slough is connected to our ground water, and a general understanding of connecting people to place. [Understanding what is in your own backyard!]

Nathan: I get a lot of the same responses. Most people say, “You work there, GROSS!” There are so many awesome places to explore in and around the Portland Metro area, The Gorge, Mt. Tabor, Forrest Park etc., but, if people that live in this area don’t have transportation, then those areas aren’t very accessible. The Slough is in their own neighborhood, and it’s beautiful and close. Connecting people with places where they live is important.

Can you share some of CSWC’s  accomplishments?

Penny: Development of the Explorando event [the Council’s bilingual nature festival]. I think it’s great that we have a bilingually focused event. The Council was honored with a “Light a Fire” award in the Portland Monthly magazine. It shows that we are a small organization, but we are able to do a lot with the resources we have.

Nathan: I think our Slough School program is really doing great, serving approximately 5,000 students each year – that is a huge amount of kids receiving environmental education. Our recently organized volunteer program seems to be getting off without a hitch, so I’m really excited about that as well. The first year we did the Aquifer Adventure event (nine years ago), we had approximately 60 people attend. Last year we had 800+ participants. It was a very diverse population as well, people from many different parts of town and different ethnicities, so that was exciting.

What is one goal CSWC is trying to reach right now?

Penny: Create events that are accessible to more people. We are trying to focus on communities that aren’t already involved with our organization. We have a great presence in the schools in our watershed, but we can have a huge presence, so continuing what we are working on.

What are the challenges CSWC faces, if any?

Penny: Sustainable funding would be the key. Diversifying our funding so it’s sustainable.

Nathan: Knowledge about what the Slough is, what the CSWC is doing, spreading the word so there is a better understanding.

Any final thoughts?

Penny: The Slough is really interesting because it’s been through a lot of environmental damage, and it’s never going to return to the pristine waters it once was when this area was a flood plain. So figuring out what the best we can accomplish is kind of exciting, and challenging. I want people to know, it’s okay to not understand what a watershed is, and what is all involved with the Columbia Slough. You don’t have to be knowledgable about the area to come out to one of our events, or visit the Slough. We aren’t an environmental organization, we represent a lot of stakeholders, because many people and businesses are impacted by this watershed. It takes all of us working together to make a difference.

Nathan: The environmental movement on a global scale feels massive, but if you focus on your area, you can make a difference in your local community.

Interview post- pond                                                          -Whitaker Ponds –                                                                         This Location is Home to CSWC- Where Penny and Nathan Get to Work!

A gigantic thank you to Nathan and Penny for talking with me, and all their awesome work with the CSWC! Look for them at one of the next CSWC events.

For more information on the CSWC visit the website, and my previous blog posts: Columbia Slough What is It?   Columbia Slough-Natural Surroundings Education!