REEDLEY – Local nonprofit Kings River Conservancy (KRC) is developing a program to get more youth outside and engaged in environmental education with help from a state grant.
KRC announced on Dec. 17 that it received a grant for nearly $214,000 from the California Natural Resources Agency through the state’s Youth Community Access program. The grant will allow KRC to offer a new youth-led leadership program set to kick off at the education pavilion near Pine Flat Dam in February 2024.
“This program is specifically for getting kids outside,” Denise Jameson, KRC youth programs manager, said. “We’re perfectly suited for that because we have the river access, (and) we’re teaching kids about natural resources. … It’s really just getting kids outside, getting them out of the house and feeling comfortable in nature again.”
The Youth Community Access program is just one piece of the Natural Resource Agency’s “Outdoors for All” initiative first introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration in 2021. On Nov. 15, the state announced the most recent round of grant awards funded under the initiative, distributing nearly $18 million for 71 projects across California.
KRC is using the state grant to create a new program for 10- to 18-year-olds that will offer them learning opportunities centered around various aspects of the Kings River. Jameson said the grant funding will help KRC provide kids with transportation to river access points to quite literally get youth outside.
Once a month, the program will bring participants to spots along the river for different activities and projects, which could focus on topics like mental health and wellness, the cultural history of the Kings River and its local Indigenous populations, natural sciences and resource conservation, biology, engineering and water safety.
Along with river access points managed by KRC, the program will partner with Reedley College to utilize its access points. Program participants will also have the chance to visit the Kings River Conservation District (KRCD) and Kings River Fisheries Management Program’s (KRFMP) Trout Incubator Facility.
“With this youth-led program, we will now be able to expand the opportunity for youth and get them outside to not only learn about science, but be able to see it, feel it and experience it with a ‘learn by doing’ approach,” Jameson said in the KRC press release.
Jameson said the youth-led aspect will come into play when KRC provides its 16- to 18-year-old participants the chance to become counselors for the program and lead the rest of the youth during their monthly excursions. KRC wants the older youth participants to see the skills they’ve learned and be able to turn around and teach the same skills to other, younger participants.
One goal of the program is to get youth participants to stick with KRC by not only coming back to the program each month, but continuing to be involved and volunteer with KRC throughout their lives.
“We want them to continue to grow … and learn conservation and appreciate what we have in our backyard,” Jameson said.
The program will also offer participants education and certification in water safety, providing vital knowledge that Jameson said participants will hopefully bring back to their families and friends to foster the safe enjoyment of the river.
To get youth involved in the new program, KRC has been visiting schools and community programs to spread the word. Jameson said that anyone who wants their kids to be involved can reach out to the KRC through their website for more information on how to sign up for the program. KRC is also looking for adult volunteers who would like to help with the youth-led program.
Funding for the Youth Community Access program comes from the Proposition 64 cannabis tax. According to the California Natural Resources Agency, awards are prioritized for “communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies as well as other underserved communities.”
In Fresno County, the Integral Community Solutions Institute and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County were also awarded Youth Community Access grants.
According to the project award list, the Integral Community Solutions Institute received $300,000 to provide 200 youth an environmental enrichment experience near Sequoia National Park, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fresno County received $186,000 to implement the “Ultimate Journey Program” that will provide around 300 youth with camping and day trips to national parks.
KRC works to promote public safety, access and conservation along the Kings River corridor from the Pine Flat Dam to Highway 99. The nonprofit sponsors multiple river access parks and public trails, completes river clean-up work, offers river education programs and partners with other agencies on projects that support the health of the river and its ecosystem.