Youth learn soil conservation, nature appreciation at Long Acres Ranch

Long Acres Ranch near Richmond recently hosted four groups of fourth- and fifth-grade students from Lamar Consolidated Independent School District, providing firsthand instruction on soil erosion and its effect on the environment.

“We were not even officially open before these final groups of 2017 came and to date we’ve already had more than 2,000 elementary school students participate in educational programs at the ranch,” said Jim Kidda, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program coordinator.

What was once a working cattle ranch since the mid 1800s, Long Acres Ranch is now a 768-acre facility that includes 3 miles of frontage on the Brazos River. It is owned by a local foundation that has partnered with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to provide an opportunity for children and adults to experience the benefits of nature through outdoor education and recreation.

Kidda said more than 320 Lamar Consolidated ISD students visited the facility over a four-day period in late December to participate in educational programming related to the impact of erosion.

Fourth-grade students were introduced to a “stream” trailer, an AgriLife Extension mobile display through which water is pumped to create a simulated stream in sand-like material to show how streams and rivers change over time through weathering, erosion and deposition. They also participated in discussions about soil and got a firsthand look at the impact of soil erosion during a tour of the banks of the Brazos River.

Fifth-grade students participated similar activities geared to their grade level and engaged in discussions about soil core samples and soil types.

“We modeled how sedimentary rocks are formed by using a plaster and sand mixture,” Kidda said.

October Smith, ranch manager, said the facility offers additional youth education related to earth science, nature and the environment. “We provide hands-on educational experiences that supplement classroom learning and are in line with state education standards,” Smith said. “Our goal is to reinforce the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards with this programming.” Smith said Long Acres Ranch plans to have additional “science review” educational opportunities for area fifth- and eighth-grade students in the spring.

“In the meantime, we are developing lessons and activities with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and with home-schooling groups,” she said. “We try out some of our lessons with these groups to  see if we’re on the right track and make adjustments if needed.” She said they will also host various camping groups this spring.

The facility is also in the process of constructing an 11,000-square-foot visitor center, which is expected to be finished this summer.

“Once completed, the facility will be available by reservation for general use for outdoor learning and recreation activities and will function as a flexible outdoor research and demonstration site,” Smith said.

Some of the recreational activities to be offered for youth and adults activities will include tent camping, night walks, wildlife viewing, birding and nature walks, photo hunts, campfire events and 4-H natural resource programs and events.

Kidda and Smith said a primary goal of the facility is to provide visitors a rich and rewarding experience.



Original story published with AgriLife Today, January 11, 2018.

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