Robert J. Martin, Pipestem Dam and Lake, US Army Corps of Engineers

Group family picnic lunch at Great Lake Allatoona Clean Up

On any given day, a visitor to Pipestem Project—an embankment dam on Pipestem Creek located five miles north of Jamestown, North Dakota—will find a variety of opportunities for boating, hiking, and other outdoor recreation. But on Eco-Ed Event Day—part of the site’s National Public Lands Day celebration—elementary school students from Jamestown and other nearby communities discover there is much to learn about the environment surrounding the 4,200 acre site.

Each year on Eco-Ed day, the site, which is managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, draws approximately 200 students and their teachers to spend the day learning about different aspects of the area. The students get a hands-on lesson in prairie grasses, water quality, woodlands, wetlands, and soil erosion. The program is funded by the EPA, which vets the curriculum to ensure it meets specific environmental education criteria.

While the Army Corps of Engineers, joined by the Soil Conservation District, ND Game & Fish Department, and other state and federal partners, has hosted its Eco-Ed Event day for many years, it recently joined forces with National Public Lands Day. Being part of National Public Lands Day gives the partners an opportunity to talk about the value of public lands and share with the young visitors the many ways they can enjoy and care for these special areas.

On September 6, 211 6th grade students got a jump on National Public Lands Day and joined in the educational events at Pipestem Dam. Robert J. Martin, a Natural Resource Management Specialist at the site, shared some additional information about the event and how he enjoys public lands.

How long have you been at Pipestem Dam?
I came to Pipestem Dam 41 years ago this month. The dam was completed in 1974, construction of the office was completed in 1975, and I arrived here in 1976.

Kid and Pelt at Eco-Ed Day/NPLD at Pipestem Dam and Lake, US Army Corps of Engineers

What is Eco-Ed Day?
The event is an educational program for 5th and 6th graders run through the EPA. We’ve been hosting the program with the Soil Conservation District and other partners for over 25 years. We used to hold it in the spring but found there are better opportunities in the fall. That made it a perfect connection to National Public Lands Day because the whole thing happens on public lands and brings together federal and state agencies.

Being part of National Public Lands Day gives the agencies a chance to showcase all the different things that happen on the lands we manage. For Eco-Ed Day, one focus is on the animals that live near the wetlands we manage and the need to care for those lands. We have been hosting Eco-Ed Day for over 25 years, but being part of National Public Lands Day really gives us an occasion to talk about the importance of public lands and how lucky we are to have access to all these types of lands.

What do the students experience?
The best thing for the kids is the day gives them the opportunity to get outside and roam around. Kids know it’s Eco-Ed Day, but adding the National Public Lands Day element gives us an opportunity to explain to them where they are at and talk to them about all the ways they benefit from public lands.

In the Jamestown area alone there are thousands of acres of public lands to explore. Three miles from here is a Bureau of Reclamation Dam and five miles past that is a US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge. Combine those with the several nearby North Dakota Game & Fish Department lands and it all adds up to some incredible access to public lands. We explain to the kids all the things they can do to enjoy public lands, from fishing to boating to hiking and more.

What’s the most popular presentation?
A great thing about the day is it gives kids an opportunity to not just sit in a classroom and hear about things that happen outside, but to get out there and actually see what happens. My presentation on the wood ducks that live in area wetlands is pretty popular. A lot of these kids have never seen a duck egg before. When we talk about the wetlands during the Eco-Ed presentation, the kids get to touch the duck eggs and see what they look like before and after they are hatched. For the presentation on grasslands, they are actually out visiting a site with native grasses and get to see and touch the different things they are hearing about. There was also a reptile demonstration and the students were able to pet a live boa constrictor.

How do you like to enjoy public lands?
I like to hunt and walk around in undeveloped areas. North Dakota has quite a bit of what are called state school lands. These are areas that were set aside for schools when settlers first came to North Dakota. Now they are primarily undeveloped lands that are open to the public. They are really an incredible opportunity to get outside and see all sorts of different wildlife.

In addition to National Public Lands Day, NEEF sponsors Environmental Education Week each spring—and offers a variety of opportunities to learn about the environment every day. For tips on how to celebrate Environmental Education throughout the year, click here. For EE Week 2017, NEEF also created a special Hands on the Land Educator Toolkit featuring activity guides, lesson plans, and curriculum designed for all ages incorporating public lands from wetlands to urban forests to caves, and more.

Soil presentation at Pipestem Dam and Lake, US Army Corps of Engineers