|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
|Activities, activities and more activities|
Riparian areas are important and valuable in many ways. They are the green ribbons of life found on the edges of water courses (streams, lakes, ponds, etc.). Conditions there support plant communities that grow best when their root systems are near the level of high ground water. These zones range in width from narrow ribbons in desert and mountain settings to wide bands on the plains and lowlands. Riparian areas provide space, shelter, and food for the plant and animal communities with which they are associated. For example, leaf litter and terrestrial insects falling from vegetation into a stream are a source of detritus, providing nourishment for some aquatic life. Vegetation may also provide shade from the sun for aquatic plants and animals and land-dwelling creatures at the water's edge.
Riparian areas are also transportation corridors or highways for animals that depend on water bodies for food and shelter. The riparian plant community, especially shrubs and trees provides shelter and food for animals as large as deer. Trees and marshy areas provide shelter for nesting birds and the banks provide homes for burrowing animals.
The riparian zone may serve as a buffer between the uplands and the water. For example, rainfall dropping on uplands and flowing downhill can be cleansed as it flows through a riparian zone. The banks of riparian areas store water during periods of high flow such as rainstorms or snow melt and release this water to the stream during low flow times. Riparian vegetation strengthens the stream banks. This tends to prevent erosion and maintains the stream channel, keeping the water clear.
Among the many values of riparian areas, they have aesthetic and recreational values for humans. They are used for fishing, hiking, camping, picnicking, and resting. The major purpose of this activity is for students to increase their appreciation of the importance of riparian areas.
1. Find out if anyone has ever been to a stream or river bank. What was it like? Were there plants growing there? What did the area look like? Was it hot or cool? Simply encourage the students to talk and share descriptions of any area by a stream or riverbank they may have been to-or at least have seen pictures of.
2. Next tell the students that the kind of area they have been describing has a special name. In some parts of the country, it is called a riparian area. Riparian areas are important natural areas for people and wildlife. In order to learn more about these kinds of areas, the students will need to close their eyes and imagine the things you will be describing. They will be imagining these things from their own point of view, as themselves, in the setting and circumstances you will describe. Invite the students to get in a comfortable position, close their eyes, and do their best to imagine what they hear.
It is a hot summer day. You are walking in a meadow filled with knee-high grasses. Here and there are masses of tiny blue wildflowers. The ground beneath your feet is uneven, but you are in no hurry as you walk slowly toward a grove of trees. As you near the trees, you notice the changing colors of green. A breeze whispers through, showing first a shiny green, then a dull green underside of the leaves As you step into the grove of trees, you are surrounded with a welcome coolness. You immediately feel the protection of the canopy of green above your head. A tap-tap-tapping sound breaks into your thoughts. Searching about among the rough-barked trunks, your eyes finally spot a bird, black and white with a touch of red on its head, clinging to a vertical tree trunk and bobbing its head in time to the rhythmic tapping. Your eyes fill with the beauty of the setting. Your skin welcomes the cool. As you breathe deeply, the very scent of 'green' comes to you. The aroma of earth and growing things is strong and you detect here and there almost a memory of the sweet perfume of the flowers. Once in a while the pungent, but not unpleasant, odor of wet soil and last season's decaying leaves and grasses catches your attention.
As you explore further, you notice that the tree trunks are not as crowded and close as before. Grass, which earlier reached to your knees, is being overshadowed by chest-high bushes. Although these bushes have no thorns, they nevertheless snag your clothing. Your arms are lightly scratched by the twig ends. Several of the bushes are covered with small berries, pink and pale green, ripening into red in the warm sun.
The bushes become taller. You find yourself pulling aside thick, tangled willows taller than your head. You carefully choose a safe path along the precarious trail beneath your feet. Suddenly your left foot drops six inches and, looking down to examine the terrain more closely, you notice that where you stepped, the tunnel of a burrowing animal collapsed from your weight. Moving on again you feel the whisper of an abandoned spider web touch the side of your face. Brushing it aside, you notice the slope of the land is steeper. You pause, listening. . . listening.
You can hear the high drone of insects . . . It has come upon you so gradually, you are surprised that you didn't hear it before. . . Now it seems almost frighteningly loud. And beneath the buzzing drone, and lower in pitch and volume, is the sound of water gently spilling over rocks. Above the place where the water must be, you see thousands of tiny spots milling before your eyes, the creators of that high buzzing sound. The spots are hundreds of swarming insects in a cloud too thick to imagine. A dragonfly flashes by with its iridescent pinks and greens, darting here, pausing, darting there, pausing, snatching dozens of the dots, relishing a meal in an unending insect buffet.
You step aside, ducking beneath the swarming insects. You smile as your eyes come to rest on the splashing waters of the stream a few feet below. As you proceed, you use your arms to open a space to walk between the graceful green willows that bounce back undisturbed in your wake.
As your eyes comb the scene for a place to rest, you notice a hip-high rock ahead of you-gray, warm, and not yet water-smoothed. You pause before reaching the rock and bend toward the water, gathering a handful of pebbles from the stream bed. One leg anchors itself on the ground between two willows while the other reaches over to the water. With the pebbles in your hand, you swing up onto the dry perch of the rock. You settle down and look at the still wet pebbles . . . gray, pink, tan, and cool in your warm hand. After you examine them carefully, you toss the stones one at a time into the stream, listening to the pleasing plop of stone on water.
Then your eyes drift downward to the waters of the stream near the base of your rock. In an eddy you see a fish, hidden like an illusion in the stone and silt, waiting, waiting, unblinking and still only the faint wave of a gill, a tail fin, showing any evidence of life at all.
As you continue to look downstream you notice all kinds of small insects are now dancing across and above the water. A small ripple occurs in the water, then another and another. You realize that fish are rising up from below and feeding on the surface insects. Birds dart in and out of the tangle of vegetation. Some fly through.
Downstream a frog begins to croak. Much nearer, another frog offers a reply. You look around quickly to see if you can find the nearer frog. For a moment you think you spot it, but then realize that unless it sings again, you may never find it. Your eyes search for a moment as more frogs telegraph their messages back and forth. But then it seems time to leave. You take one last sweeping look all around this beautiful setting. You slowly get up from your rock along the streamside and head back home.
3. Ask the students to continue to sit quietly with their eyes closed and review the whole experience. Ask them to pay particular attention to their favorite images. Tell them they are going to be asked to describe this setting as they saw it. Invite them to open their eyes.
4. Ask them to describe their favorite images. Once each student has done this, invite all of the students to select art materials. Each should draw or paint his or her favorite images on the paper provided. Once they are finished, have the students tape up their art work on a display area.
5. Ask the students to identify some of the characteristics of riparian areas. What kinds of plants did they see? What kinds of animals? Was the environment near the water different than it was farther away from the water? If yes, what were some of the similarities and some of the differences? Ask the students to list, describe, and discuss some of the many reasons that riparian areas are important and have value - intrinsic value as well as value to wildlife and humans.
1. Visit a riparian habitat. Look for things that you encountered in your imagery. List things that were not in your imagery.
2. Generate a list of things that could be done to make it possible for people to visit a riparian area without damaging or destroying it.
3. Put your descriptions in writing-if you have not already! Combine words and visual images to convey some of the diversity in riparian
4. Is a different word used in your region to describe these kinds of areas? If not riparian areas, what are they called?
* What is a riparian area?
* Name four animals that you would expect to find in a riparian area.
* Why are riparian areas important to wildlife?
* Why are riparian areas important to humans?
* Why are riparian areas intrinsically valuable?
* Describe your position on a plan to develop a riparian habitat for recreational use by hikers, birdwatchers, and other low impact users. A parking area, restrooms, walkways, garbage removal, and other needs must be considered.