Family ties

A wetland visit can be more than just another field trip. For a nine-year-old boy and his grandparents, it’s something extra special.

June 15, 2016
Family ties
Wally and Mary Lou Schulz, Project Webfoot supporters, with their grandson, Wylie. © DUC

Spending time outdoors enjoying all that nature has to offer is nothing new for nine-year-old Wylie Ferris. Whether he’s hunkering down in a blind learning the ins and outs of deer and goose hunting from his family, exploring the trails of their 200-acre (80 hectare) Dundalk, Ont. property, or four-wheeling through the bush with his two brothers, Wylie has grown up learning in, and about, the outdoors.

But discovering the creepy crawly critters in a wetland, well, that was something brand new. It’s an experience he won’t soon forget. And neither will his grandparents, Mary Lou and Wally Schulz.

The Schulzes have been attending DUC’s Mount Forest fundraising event since the first dinner, in 1999. Invited to attend by some friends at work, Mary Lou recalls “a great meal and so much fun, we just kept going back.” It was here that the Schulzes learned about the opportunity to support DUC’s education program, Project Webfoot.

Project Webfoot links to the elementary curriculum in Grades 4 to 6 and provides learning resources for teachers and students, and where offered, field trips to local wetlands. With a grandson about to enter Grade 4 last fall, the Schulzes say they had “a very good reason” to get involved.

Wetland education field trip
Secondary students lead the Grade 4 class through activities like critter dipping at their wetland field trip.

“My daughter and her family are outdoors people,” says Mary Lou Schulz. “They hunt, hike and just simply enjoy wildlife and nature. The boys are growing up and we just saw this as an opportunity for Wylie to see and experience something new, taught by someone other than his parents.”

It took time for the spring field trip season to arrive, and the Schulzes were thrilled to finally get word their grandson’s class would be heading out to a local wetland. But their generosity didn’t stop there. With two Grade 4 classes, and only one sponsor, Mary Lou says it “just wasn’t right to send some of the kids and not all.” So the Schulzes stepped in with another donation to ensure both classes got to go.

Early this June, Grade 4 students from Highpoint Community School made the trip to the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre, near Wiarton. It was wet feet, muddy hands and whole lot of smiling faces as the students learned to connect with nature through a series of fun, interactive, outdoor wetland activities delivered by local secondary students. The highlight for all of course, was pulling on rubber boots and wading into the wetland to catch critters.

Project Webfoot education program
Grade 4 students from Highpoint Community School wade in to the wetlands at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Wylie. “My favourite part was finding all the cool stuff in the water. We saw all kinds of things, like, catfish, dragonfly nymphs, lots of tadpoles and frogs, and even a crayfish.  I wish I could go back.”

Wylie’s enthusiastic words are music to the ears of Mary Lou and Wally Schulz, who made arrangements to join in on the fun and attend the field trip. They got to see firsthand the pure enjoyment the kids had spending time outside, interacting with nature, and each other.

“We overheard one of Wylie’s classmates say – this is the best day ever – and that was it,” says Mary Lou Schulz. “That was all the thanks we needed.”

Wylie and his classmates were joined by Peninsula Shores District School Eco-Shores students as part of DUC’s Wetland Centres of Excellence program – where secondary students tackle hands-on wetland action projects and are becoming advocates for the environment through the preparation and delivery of mentored wetland field trips to local Grade 4 classes. Learn more about these and DUC’s other education programs and partnerships by visiting our resources for educators.