by Sturgis Robinson, Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Prescott College
When I came to Prescott in 1971, I was not prepared for such a dramatic change in my environment. I was a New England kid raised on bleak, bitter winters, humid summers with clouds of mosquitoes and then the sudden ecstatic colors of autumn. The high chaparral, the vast ponderosa forests that smelled of vanilla when you pressed your nose into the bark, the violent summer monsoon; all of it was overwhelmingly unfamiliar to me. It was scary and magical all at the same time.
Fortunately for me, I had a guide back then to show me the secrets of the natural garden that surrounds Prescott.
He was a year or two ahead of me at Prescott College, and although he too had grown up in a completely different bioregion, he became a passionate observer and advocate for the environment in Prescott. I remember that he showed me how to peel and eat a prickly pear fruit in juicy fullness during that fall. I was so pleased with the idea of consuming unfamiliar wild foods that I tried it on my own, but without his supervision all I got was a mouthful of microscopic spines.
Fortunately for the young people of Prescott, my guide all those years ago was not deterred by one idiot student. Over the past 30 years, Professor Doug Hulmes has taken at least 3,500 Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) fifth-graders through a semester long Creeks and Watershed place-based environmental curriculum, unique to our local natural world and unlike any other such program in the country.
It’s a beloved tradition at PUSD, eagerly anticipated by each incoming class. For seven weeks, 120 kids in 12 groups do classroom projects, take four local field trips and thrill to a capstone camp experience at Mingus Springs, all while learning about the significance of water in the Granite Creek watershed and experiencing the meaning and value of local stewardship.
The kids visit the sewage treatment plant (always a hit – they’re fifth-graders!), plant Arizona Walnut trees in Watson Woods, do service projects along Granite Creek and climb to Thumb Butte to get the big picture of their own home place. Most of the kids have never been up there.
This standout program is subsidized by Prescott College and the More Kids in the Woods program of Prescott National Forest. Doug’s teaching assistants are Prescott College undergraduates in the College’s environmental education program. Many of those Prescott College students have stayed in Yavapai County as teachers and business people.
And the kids? Well, is it a coincidence that over the past 30 years Prescott has become a tourist destination for our trails, our boulders and our mountains? Is the growing awareness of our collective responsibility to maintain our natural world – and to obtain the economic benefits of a healthy environment – an outgrowth of this program?
Doug just smiles: “Hey, it’s our garden,” he says.