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San Diego County, California

Exploring A Watershed, Discovering History and Connecting Kids & Communities

A group of San Diego teens that care for City Heights canyonlands with the Cesar Chavez Club at Monroe Middle School were some of the first participants in the new Watershed Explorers program.  The program, a partnership of the Volcan Mountain Foundation (VMF) and led by the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, along with the San Dieguito River Park and the San Diego Archaeological Center, officially launched with a special tour of select locations along the San Dieguito River Watershed on February 11th.

The 'Chavistas', as the community service club members are known, were selected to participate in the special tour as a reward for their volunteer work with San Diego Canyonlands, where they collect trash, restore habitat with native plants and maintain the neighborhood canyon trails. This dedicated group has made meaningful connections with their backyard nearby nature, while also giving back to their community, and consciously contributing to their future success with their volunteer work. With infectious enthusiasm and broad smiles they shared the excitement and pride they have in getting off the couch, doing something positive and making a difference.

In a county as big as San Diego, transportation issues are often a barrier for families, students and youth groups to exploring and connecting with the vast reaches of San Diego’s vital natural resources and inspirational beauty. Also, it’s critically important that all San Diegans understand how the headwaters and forests of San Diego’s mountains connect and contribute to inland and coastal San Diego communities and their essential water services.

The two new Watershed Explorer vans donated by The San Diego Foundation, as part of it's Opening the Outdoors initiative, and the County of San Diego, through Supervisor Dianne Jacob's office, are a key and greatly-appreciated part, of the Watershed Explorers program.

Appropriately, the day got started at the trailhead for Swan Canyon, just about a block from the Chavistas' school, with the unveiling of one of the new Watershed Explorers vans and big smiles for photos.

After riding in the van up to the San Dieguito River Park's historic Sikes Adobe, near Lake Hodges and North County Fair, the kids discovered what it was like to live over a hundred years ago. After visiting the chickens in the coop, they took in the creamery and the windmill and learned how precious the water that it pumped was to early settlers--that certainly hasn't changed even a century plus later.

After touring the adobe they discovered that you can make butter from fresh cream just by shaking it in a jar! Even better, they discovered how delicious fresh butter tastes--thank you to Raul Padilla of California Mountain Bakery in Julian for contributing fresh-baked California sourdough bread for the butter tasting!

From Sikes Adobe the explorers continued on through Ramona and along the watershed to the Santa Ysabel Creek headwaters of the San Dieguito River at VMF's Volcan Mountain Nature Center in Julian. Among an ancient stand of oaks, pines and cedars at an elevation of 5,000', they enjoyed sack lunches kindly donated by Anita Nichols of Mom's Pie House before hitting the Sky Island Trail and discovering the incredible diversity of nature on Volcan Mountain…and even a little bit of snow! At a mile above sea level, the top of the trail revealed the Sky Island peak scope and expansive views to the coast across the San Dieguito and San Diego River watersheds. While taking in the views, the students learned the ecology of the water cycle and that Volcan Mountain is like a giant sponge that squeezes out water and sends it out along four different watersheds to coastal and desert communities.

After taking in the big picture view of the watersheds, the students headed back down to the gateway of the Volcan Mountain Nature Center (VMNC), and actually stepped over the headwaters of Santa Ysabel Creek…try doing that farther along the watershed! At the VMNC's education building, they got a hands-on micro-view of how watersheds function by creating a spray bottle rain storm over a beautifully detailed three-dimensional relief map of the south half of the 15-mile long Volcan Mountain Range. They loved seeing the 'rain' shed off the mountain range, following along the creeks and riverways, and emptying into buckets representing the Pacific Ocean and the Salton Sea…maybe they also thought it was fun getting each other a little wet too!

Thank you to Diane Coombs and her daughter's Michael and Paula Rantz Foundation, Sue Randerson and her family's Willis and Jane Fletcher Fund at The San Diego Foundation, the Julian Community United Methodist Church, VMF's Julian Film Festival, and Sharon Massey for the generous contributions that made this incredible relief map, created by Eleanor Warner and Matt Johnson, possible.

Regular parts of the Watershed Explorers program will also include visits to Lake Sutherland outside of Ramona, the San Diego Archaeological Center in the San Pasqual Valley, and the Birdwing Open Air Classroom at the San Dieguito Lagoon in Del Mar.

There are multitudes of mental and physical health benefits that growing kids receive in connecting with nature. In turn, we all need a healthy environment and healthy watersheds; and we need generations of people to understand and care about nature, our environment, and these vital local watersheds. With kids and communities becomingly increasingly disconnected with nature and the environment, the Volcan Mountain Foundation is proud to be a partner in the Watershed Explorers program, which is dedicated to opening the outdoors to underserved youth in San Diego County and aims to address these critical community needs by increasing watershed literacy and connectivity and advancing quality of health and life in San Diego County.

For more information on participating in the Watershed Explorers program or visiting VMF's Volcan Mountain Nature Center go to www.VolcanMt.org

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