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One of our Oregon Field Guide stories this week is about the Washington State School for the Blind’s cross-country ski day at Tea Cup Lake. In it, 20-some sight-impaired teens spend a fun day in the snowy forest on Mount Hood’s southeast flank, each paired with a sighted volunteer instructor from the Oregon Nordic Club.
But there’s another part of the story that we didn’t touch on in the TV broadcast. That’s the hands-on education program the U.S. Forest Service’s Hood River district created for the kids after their ski day is over.
Ranger Ron Kikel is in charge of the program that teaches the students about the wildlife that also make their home in that wintry forest.
“We have four different stations tonight and each station will have either predator or prey. We have the elk and deer station. We have the bobcat-mountain lion station, bear and coyote station and raccoon and marten station. These are all animals, with the exception of the bear, [that] don’t do much hibernation and they have to survive out in the winter.”
The message Kikel and his partners at the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife want to send is one of environmental responsibility and a consciousness that wild creatures depend on undisturbed habitat in order to survive.
“We really send that message home with them and hopefully they go on to seek careers in the environment,” Kikel says.
Now in the process of planning their eighth year, Kikel has modified the program very little to make it accessible and interesting for these special-needs kids.
“They are very adept in their hearing, their touch, senses of smell,” he says. “We provide them with tracks and fur and skulls so they can get an idea of how these animals were designed to survive in the woods. We’ll describe the object that they are handling, like the different fur pelts, the different skulls, we’ll demonstrate antlers — the different size and weight. We’ll give them things that they can hold onto that weigh as much as antlers.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also supplies Braille booklets that support the curriculum.