Kids Spring into Earth Day

There’s nothing like a picture-perfect Earth Day weekend to let nature work its magic on a group of wide-eyed children.

There’s nothing like a picture-perfect Earth Day weekend to let nature work its magic on a group of wide-eyed children.

Two dozen fourth and fifth graders from the Boys and Girls Club of Irvine got a rare hands-on lesson in the importance of protecting Irvine’s preserved wildlands. The daylong outing was sponsored by Irvine Company and Donald Bren Foundation, and hosted by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.

“As a young boy growing up in Southern California, I learned to appreciate nature on land very similar to the preserved open spaces on The Irvine Ranch,” Donald Bren, Chairman of Irvine Company, said.

“They not only inspire, they create a sense of freedom. My hope is that this special outing instills a similar sense of freedom and wonder in the youth of the Boys and Girls Club of Irvine.” As they set out on a hike, enjoyed lunch by a meadow and competed in a nature-themed scavenger hunt, the children clearly we’re enjoying this special outing.

Gustavo Delgado, 10, learned a cool trick that cowboys of bygone days employed: using handy ingredients in nature to hide the fact that you haven’t been able to bathe in a while. “I like the cowboy cologne — I think they called it sage,” he said. “It makes you smell good.” (Cowboys would rub the pleasantly-pungent plant on them, hence the nickname, “cowboy cologne.”)

Themed “Nature in My Backyard,” the youths’ outdoor adventure began at the conservancy’s Native Seed Farm, a 14-acre location in the foothills north of Irvine where conservancy officials and community volunteers harvest native seeds used to revegetate natural open spaces on The Irvine Ranch.

“Anytime you take kids on a special outing like this, they just light up,” said Robert Santana, chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Orange Coast, which serves 8,000 youths in the cities of Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Orange.

“We want the kids to understand their environmental footprint on the world, and the open spaces available on The Irvine Ranch offer a wonderful chance to help them understand the importance of taking care of the planet.”

After the Native Seed Farm, the youngsters boarded a bus and traveled up the Hicks Haul Road to Loma Ridge, a scenic formation offering panoramic views of Orange and Los Angeles counties.

As they took in the views, Michelle Clemente, the conservancy’s director of community programs and former zookeeper and curator at Santa Ana Zoo, gave a brief history of the area’s geography and helped them locate landmarks far below.

“What’s that little mountain?” a boy called out, spying Signal Hill in faraway Long Beach. “I see Angel Stadium!” shouted another. When a large bird was spotted overhead, Clemente identified it as a turkey vulture and asked if anyone knew how it got that name. “Because it

eats turkeys?” a girl asked. Clemente smiled and explained the name comes from the fact that the birds somewhat resemble wild turkeys, and because they are scavengers that do not kill their prey.

The boys and girls then were driven to nearby Baker Canyon where they enjoyed lunch next to a meadow and participated in a nature scavenger hunt.

Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, said outings such as these can be life-changing.

“Ask anyone who works in land management for a living — including myself — and they’ll point to specific experiences, ‘aha’ moments, that sparked their love of the land and their desire to care for it.

“I have no doubt that at least a few of the children who were on the trip got really, really excited — and that is critical to the long-term care of these remarkable lands.”