Junior Stewards program engages youth with nature

By Sarah Ford

For Shaw Media

A free monthly program offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge is giving area youth a chance to explore their interests in the natural world.

From educational programs to in-the-field learning to different activities and field trips, the Junior Stewards program, with an acronym of “stewardship, technology, ethics, wonder, adventure, reflection, discovery, and study,” meets once a month from February through December under the leadership of Jacquelynn Albrecht, Refuge Ranger with Upper Mississippi River NWFR.

The program is dedicated to inspiring youth and their families to connect and be engaged with the natural world. The stated goal is to “awaken the spirit and stimulate curiosity about nature, strengthen skills of observation, investigation and imagination, and to increase a sense of wonder and drive for lifelong learning.”

The Junior Stewards and their families met at Clinton Community College Jan. 21 for the 39th annual Bald Eagle Watch. The kids learned about birds of prey, local wildlife, and other opportunities for further exploration. They smiled and laughed while watching an ornate box turtle scurry on the floor before it fixated on Jr. Steward Jacob Atterton’s brown shoes. A program by Hoo Haven Wildlife Rehab and Education Center taught them that bald eagles can fly up to 15,000 feet in the air and can eat over a pound of meat per day.

Corinne Atterton of Mount Carroll enrolled her 4th grader Jacob into the program so he can further explore his interests in the natural world. He and his friend Isaac Rucubo of Savanna were fascinated with the animals and activities at the Bald Eagle Watch, especially seeing “Big Jake” the 20-year-old Bald Eagle ambassador brought in by Hoo Haven.

The group typically meets one Saturday a month from 9 a.m.-noon at the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center, 7071 Riverview Rd. in Thomson, though times and locations vary. The program is geared towards youth ages 10-14+, and while enrollment is free, space is limited. To find out more, contact Ranger Jacquelynn at 815-273-2732 or email jacquelynn_albrecht@fws.gov.