Youth Engagement

Students from a Los Angeles High School experience their backyard forest virtually before exploring in person the next day.

Spring of 2012, 26 students from Los Angeles River High School embarked on an adventure into the Angeles National Forest. The charred remains of the large trees and shrubs from the 2009 wildfire were still evident, but the vibrant green from the resurgent new growth was everywhere.

Just the day before, the class acted as the test pilots for a new “virtual hike and species challenge” computer program to get to know their wild neighbors by virtually exploring the headwaters of the Los Angeles River in the classroom. The virtual hike allows students to learn online about the unique native plants, animals, and habitats in Los Angeles’s backyard, the Angeles National Forest.

We partnered with the Angeles National Forest to launch the virtual hike and species challenge developed by the Get-to-Know organization. The virtual hike for the Angeles National Forest includes narrated tutorials, stories, educational segments about the forest, scavenger hunt style challenges, and a printable, customizable field guide.

The next day, the students started their real forest hike high above Los Angeles at Charlton Flats picnic area. The group was given a brief introduction about the National Forest and what to watch for in the woods. The kids enjoyed the deep breaths of clean air, learning about plants and trees, and the opportunity to listen to the calming sounds of the stream next to the trail.

The group stopped and looked over field guides to figure out how and where to find the species we hoped to observe: California quail, red-tailed hawks, Steller’s jays, and mountain king snakes. The kids used their field guides and new iphone apps to log observations so they could track them back in the classroom using inaturalist where the information can be shared with other schools and researchers around the world.

“It’s exciting to see students using new tools to experience and explore the forest and share their enthusiasm with their families and friends,” said Los Angeles River District Ranger Mike McIntyre. After 2.3 miles of traveling through mixed conifers with Douglas fir and sugar pine as well as scrub habitat with ceanothus, chamise, and manzanita, the students ate lunch at the top of the Big Tujunga watershed. One student stated, “I loved that we got out of the city to have fun in the forest looking for birds and animals.”

This event was made possible by the National Forest Foundation, the Get-to-Know organization, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Angeles National Forest.