Whiptail Trails Club Helps Students Discover the Great Outdoors - SantaFe.com
Seventh grade girls in the Whiptail Trails Club at White Sands National Park.

In this era when everyone, including youngsters, has a phone in their pocket and spends hours each day in front of a screen, it’s more important than ever to help young people discover the joys of spending time outdoors. Fortunately, the Whiptail Trails Club of the Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA), is designed to do just that.

The Whiptail Trails Club has two main functions: providing in-class lessons for seventh-grade students followed by field trips, and hosting weeklong summer camps for girls. Partnering with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service, PLIA helps young people engage with nature at a critical time in their lives.

Exploring Nature with Whiptail Trails Club Through Schools

PLIA and its partners work with schools around New Mexico to conduct in-class lessons related to nature and based on STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics) requirements for seventh graders. Some lessons also incorporate art, making them STEAM lessons. These lessons create prior knowledge that students can tap into when they go on a follow-up field trip with PLIA leaders.

An example would be teaching students about native plants, the various uses of the plants by Indigenous people, the rules of plant collecting, and then using watercolors to paint pictures of plants that they see out in the field. Students also learn the principles of Leave No Trace so their visits to the outdoors won’t negatively impact the area.

Other in-class activities include wildlife demonstrations and hands-on activities tying into Indigenous and Spanish culture. On field trips, outdoor scavenger hunts or crafts are often experienced.

The Whiptail Trails Club visits places near the schools where they give the presentations, so students in Las Cruces may visit Dripping Springs Natural Area while those in Albuquerque may head to Petroglyph National Monument.

Fortunately for the schools’ budget, PLIA covers all costs associated with classroom visits and field trips, including transportation. The program focuses on low-income Title 1 schools that not only have less money in the budget for extra activities, but because the students in those schools may have had limited experience camping and in the outdoors.

Because the lessons are aligned with state STEM requirements, they can be an engaging addition to the curriculum. Plus, the kids got to go outside and discover the world beyond the screens!

To find out about inviting the Whiptail Trails Club to your school or classroom, visit the website.

Whiptail Trails Club exploring native plants.

Camping with Whiptail Trails Club 

Another very exciting component of the Whiptail Trails Club is the free summer camp for girls entering or leaving seventh grade. That’s right: it’s free! In fact, all transportation, camping gear, and food is provided for the campers.

The week-long camp is designed to help girls build confidence in the outdoors. In lessons before the camp, the girls learn about public lands, wildlife, and survival skills. Then they head into the great outdoors and add to their skill set, experiencing wayfinding, outdoor cooking, backpacking, and first-aid. They may visit a historic location or even take tree-ring samples to figure out the age of a tree.

An experience like this can make a huge difference in a girl’s life and help her discover a side of herself she didn’t know existed: someone who loves being outdoors and experiencing nature firsthand.

To learn more about this opportunity, visit the PLIA website.

Whiptail Trails Club members and a Forest Service employee looking at a tree sample.

Support the Whiptail Trails Club

The Whiptail Trails Club is supported with funding from the New Mexico Outdoor Equity Fund, plus private and corporate donations. It is also supported through staff and interns from the BLM and Conservation Corps New Mexico.

PLIA also relies on generous individuals, organizations, and businesses to support them in offering these programs. If you’d like to help empower students in experiencing the outdoors, you can support the program through a donation or making a purchase from the PLIA online store.

Read about PLIA’s Fort Craig virtual reconstruction project here.



Public Lands Interpretive Association logo


This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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