Climbers Run Nature Preserve
By Meg Reed
Founder and Director, Horizons, Lancaster Country Day School
Two years ago, when our educational enrichment organization, Horizons at LCDS, had the opportunity to partner with the Lancaster County Conservancy and Climbers Run Nature Preserve, I jumped at the chance. Horizons’ six-week summer program serves low-income, urban, public school children in kindergarten and first grade who rarely get to enjoy the beautiful natural environment that can be found just a few miles from their homes. In fact, many of these students don’t even play outside in their own neighborhoods because of safety concerns. I knew that spending time at Climbers Run would be an educational, fun, and eye-opening experience for them. Best of all, it aligned clearly with our mission to provide hands-on learning and enriching opportunities in the summer for kids in our community who need it most.
For the past two summers, over the course of six visits, the Horizons bus has journeyed through the lovely Lancaster County countryside to Climbers Run. The feeling of awe set in well before we arrived at the nature preserve as students exclaimed, “LOOK! COWS! CORN!” As we wound down the drive to Climbers Run, surrounded by wildflowers in full bloom, the eyes of our students widened even more.
We were greeted by enthusiastic naturalists who knew just how to draw in our students, some who were reluctant and even a little nervous about the natural setting at first. These skilled and dynamic teachers guided our students to the Climbers Run indoor space where they were again awestruck by various stuffed birds and animals whose living counterparts make their habitats at Climbers Run. On one visit, the students got to explore and even touch the skeletons of these animals and to learn about how their bone and teeth structure relates to survival instincts. They were fascinated. As a teacher, I can tell you that this kind of enthusiasm for science is impossible to replicate with a textbook or even a video. I know that some little scientists truly emerged that day.
The real excitement, however, began as students were invited outside to explore the natural wonders of Climbers Run. Students enjoyed habitat hunts throughout the grounds, explored various plant species, searched for fish nests in the pond, and even conducted stream studies in the safe and pristine stream that runs through the preserve. They learned how to work in pairs to rustle up organisms from the bottom of the creek while a partner caught the specimens in their nets. The excitement and sense of accomplishment they experienced when one group caught a large crayfish was fun to witness. When they didn’t catch what they had hoped, they learned to persevere and to keep trying. They treated the organisms they did catch with gentleness and promises to return them to their natural habitat soon.
Through all of this exploration at Climbers Run, the students also learned about respecting and caring for nature, and about safety and responsibility. They began to see nature as a special gift that we as humans need to preserve. Enthusiastic discussions about littering and recycling were born out of our visits to Climbers Run! In addition to little scientists, we now have some little conservationists in bloom.
The benefits and opportunities that our Climbers Run visits provided to Horizons students cannot be overstated. No amount of reading, video-watching, or even walking around the school could recreate the experiences that our students have had there. In addition to the invaluable hands-on science education they received, they also learned to take healthy risks, to persevere, to work together, and to ask questions. Best of all, they learned to respect and to enjoy nature. Our time at Climbers Run has been a true gift. I hope that Horizons will be able to continue to visit and explore this special place for many years to come.