For more than 30 years, volunteers have been sharing their love of nature with children through the Terwilliger Nature Guide program. Named for renowned nature educator Elizabeth Terwilliger, the program is now part of the larger efforts of the San Rafael nonprofit known as WildCare. Anyone with free time during the week can become a nature guide after attending a series of 10 training sessions (and paying a $95 fee to cover the training costs). Find out if this is right for you at a free orientation on August 14.
For nine years, Laurie Oman has been volunteering as a nature guide. “You don’t need to have a [science] background,” says Oman, “just some enthusiasm and some time.”
Oman leads walks in China Camp through Miwok Meadows on a route that goes by a creek, woods, a meadow, and a marsh. The first time she hiked there she saw wild turkeys, deer, various animal tracks, and scat from coyote and rabbit–a rich classroom for nature education.
“I love when kids come from Richmond, Oakland, or South San Francisco, kids who maybe don’t have much access to nature,” she says. “They’re excited to see a deer. They’re wide-eyed, and you just feel like you’re giving them something really special, opening up a new vista. One of the unique things about our program is that the groups are six or less.”
Oman says she doesn’t have all the answers to their questions, but part of what she’s teaching is a mentality, a way of thinking about and appreciating nature. These children will be voters in eight years, she says. “They will grow up and hopefully keep in mind saving, inheriting, and maintaining parks and the natural world.”
WildCare, based in San Rafael, is a nonprofit that specializes in children’s environmental education and wildlife rehabilitation. Terwilliger guides meet elementary school children at the trailhead for two and a half hour hikes through Muir Woods, Ring Mountain, Santa Rosa Spring, or China Camp.
Volunteer trainings take place twice a year, and the next orientation is August 14 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at WildCare headquarters, 76 Albert Park Lane in San Rafael. Terwilliger Nature Guide Training graduates commit to leading at least three discovery walks for school children per month. All walks take place on weekday mornings during the school year.
Visit wildcarebayarea.org for more details.