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‘Inspired by nature’: PVAS continues to promote conservation education in Eastern Panhandle

By Staff | May 24, 2019

Potomac Valley Audubon Society Executive Director Kristin Alexander describes the society's work in the community, during the SAIL Brown Bag Luncheon on May 17. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Although many community members are aware of the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, the breadth of its work may not be so well-known.

According to PVAS Executive Director Kristin Alexander, while the society does manage and maintain four nature preserves, its primary focus is on education.

“When I came on board in 2001, my job was to start programs for environmental education,” Alexander said. “There wasn’t a lot of environmental education going on at that point.”

At the time, PVAS was only caring for Yankauer Nature Preserve, which has 104 acres in Berkeley County along the Potomac River. Alexander’s first programs for adults were held there, and have since expanded to being held at the other three preserves: Cool Spring Nature Preserve, which has 32 acres in southern Jefferson County; Eidolon Nature Preserve, which has 354 acres on Sideling Hill in Morgan County; and Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve, which has 46 acres in Back Creek Valley.

“We do a lot of field trips . . . bird trips, of course, but we also try to think outside of the box, and do anything that is part of conservation issues,” Alexander said, mentioning 20 Master Naturalists are trained by PVAS every year. “It’s a way to be continuously inspired by the outdoors.”

While Alexander’s adult programs were able to be held in nature, many of her children’s programs had to be held at school locations, which challenged her to be creative with her lesson planning.

“When I came on board, it was to really get outdoor youth activities up and running. We developed an outreach program, so we could go to schools. Most kids have never been out in a stream, never caught a crayfish,” Alexander said, mentioning the curriculum she developed on the Chesapeake watershed now reaches thousands of school children every year. “We made some significant shifts in our programming, to get the kids involved in the natural world.”

To further its mission of conservation education, PVAS developed summer camps and summer family programming at its nature preserves, which have grown in popularity over the years.

“It’s all about getting the kids in the woods, in the mud, just enjoying the natural world,” Alexander said.

PVAS has also worked with the Boy Scouts, to develop a PVAS patch, and with local homeschoolers, to offer workshops for children at the nature preserves.

“We’re offering more classes to homeschooling families than in the past,” Alexander said. “It teaches them about science, which their parents might not be comfortable teaching themselves, and socializes them.”

PVAS is involved in the community in a number of other ways: building a Chimney Swift Tower on Shepherd University’s property; offering educational resources for teachers; supporting Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge; and running a Wildlife Hotline manned by volunteers, to help those with wildlife concerns.

Alexander spoke for the Shepherdstown Area Independent Living Brown Bag Luncheon on May 17. To learn more about PVAS, visit www.potomacaudubon.org.