Offering students access to NATURE during the traditional school day!
NatureTrack provides K-12 students in Santa Barbara County with outdoor field trips where teachers specify what they would like NatureTrack volunteer docents to emphasize based on what students are currently studying in class.
Direct communication with teachers ensures that each field trip supplements in-classroom units of study and is in alignment with state-mandated standards.
Dedicated volunteer docents who enjoy sharing their knowledge and love of the outdoors with students lead NatureTrack adventures. Students learn the wonder of what is in their own “backyard” by hiking on local trails, spending time in oak woodlands, chaparral, grasslands, coastal sage scrub, and other regional ecosystems.
There is never a cost to schools, students, teachers, or parents for a NatureTrack field trip. NatureTrack even covers bus transportation expenses to get students and teachers from their schools to field trip locations.
Field Trip Locations
- Urban & Nature Interface
- Organic Farms (Farm Track)
Often used together, these two parklands in Santa Barbara allow exploration of highly varied eco – zones in a short time period. Restoration on the Douglas Family Reserve provides the opportunity to introduce the concept of re – wilding of land previously used for agriculture and residences. Native plantings in the riparian area are widely varied including many water loving plants including mulefat, juncus, arroyo willow and sycamore. On the mesa of the park are stands of imported palms, eucalypts and exotic we eds along with more recently restored native plants where contrast among plants and habitats are explored.
Views out over the Pacific and the Arroyo Burro beach with shore birds and sea life are often in view. On the Arroyo Burro beach, the geology of the coastline is readily in view all the way to the to p of the Santa Ynez Ridge. This allows for interpretation regarding erosion, sand movement, and sedimentation and the entire rock cycle. Weather patterns and the effects on the local habitat provide the possibility for discussions that focus on the interface between ocean and beach with the estuary at the edge. Plant and animal life from the ocean and the land are compared for their adaptation to their habitat.
Easily accessible to Goleta and Santa Barbara schools, Goleta Butterfly Grove is a delicate resource available for educational presentation of the Monarch butterfly migration and how it culminates with over-winter gathering in preparation for the spring breeding. Butterflies coursing hundreds of miles north for the warm months begin the inter-generational story that brings their third generation off-spring back each winter here at Elwood. While the larger mid-west to Mexico corridor of Monarchs is ever more threatened by pesticides and de-forestation, this western group provides comparisons in geographic forces bearing on one of the last great migrations on the planet.
Historical eucalyptus, local native plants and invasive plants provide lessons in habitat and preservation on land that overlays an important geological fault and a base for exploring the broad geological features of Santa Barbara County from the Channel Islands to the Santa Ynez Range. On the beach we are able to study tides, the coastal zone habitat and the geology of the Monterey formation in the cliffs as it relates to local oil industry and the basin and range visibly evident in this location.
This site in western Goleta provides easy access to geological formations, beach activities, marine life, and marine fossils. Here the Monterey geological formation is clearly evident and provides opportunities to discuss oil production while viewing the offshore oil platform Holly. Foraminifera, microscopic animals, were abundant in the Monterey shales creating the fossil fuels we use today. Fault lines, beautiful bedrock along with sea cut mesas are among the geological features readily available here. Migratory birds make an appearance along the shore and in the offshore kelp forest, which also affords material for art projects and learning about marine life. The watershed that ends at this beach demonstrates erosion process and sedimentation along with the cliffs and the cut banks as examples of the entire rock cycle. The limited catchment above the beach is interesting to contrast with the lengthier Santa Ynez Valley. Our field trips to Haskell’s Beach are often coupled with time at Ellwood Butterfly Reserve, where we study the migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly. Also available at these sites are the contrasting exotic plants and native plants including eucalyptus, coyote bush, willow, mule fat and annual forbes.
Where the river flows through Solvang, long-standing pools are formed and riparian habitat supports unique flora and fauna in the system strikingly different from the surrounding valley and hills. Here we look at the geology of the watershed that extends 90 miles through the full catchment. The geology of erosion including material dispersion and local rock formation can be studied here. The steelhead restoration project is a part of the history of this river system that includes the story of the migratory oceangoing fish and the conservation efforts to maintain their habitat. We usually see migratory and residential birds. Short trails provide opportunities for discovering local plants including mule fat, Willow, coyote bush, and Cottonwood.
Located west of Santa Barbara between Refugio and Gaviota State Beaches, the steep canyon affords students the opportunity to see native trees and plants in an undisturbed community of sycamores, ancient oak trees, bay Laurel and sages. Included in this habitat are many species that are considered threatened or endangered. This narrow canyon provides an interesting geology with ocean views visible from the trails among the unique landforms. The history here includes a Chumash village as well as a stagecoach stop. The Arroyo Hondo story of selection by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County provides lessons on conservation of local natural habitats set aside for learning opportunities and research.
Camp Whittier is a 50 acre gem near Cachuma Lake with hidden trails and a rich geology on the edge of the valley and the north side of the Santa Ynez Range. Large fields provide room for group activities and ridge tops afford long views for bird watching and exploration of the wide variety of native plants. Tracks of wild animals provide insight into the ways wildlife move and predators hunt in the area.
Seasonal streams flowing to the lake provides a source the source of lessons on watershed, the water cycle, along with riparian habitat and erosion issues. Native plants include valley oak and coastal live oak close together, providing a ready comparison. Toyon, mule fat, monkey flower and seasonal wildflowers are among natives in the area. Deer, wild turkey and other wild birds are often seen on the property.
Trails at Gaviota State Park parallel the historical crossroads of Santa Barbara County where native-Americans traveled from the islands, the ocean and foothills to the interior as far as the Sierra and back to trade diverse resources and goods from across these geographic areas. Unique geology created the Gaviota Canyon that has been used for eons as a corridor for human travel from footpaths to state highway and railroad. The same corridor is the pathway for an exchange of wildlife and plants represented in multiple habitats including coastal strand, chaparral, coastal sage, oak woodland, grassland, as well as riparian/marsh areas. The rich diversity of plants and animals affords opportunity to explore their relationship with this unique geographic area.
We take lessons here from the geology and weather, especially influenced by the geographic configuration of nearby Point Conception and the influence of the Channel Islands with ocean currents and landmass air movement. Because elevation changes and the varied coastal influence, there is an enormous variety of plants closely arrayed by habitat allowing comparisons between habitats and seasonal changes. Short walking distances yield huge variety in observations about the natural history in this locale and how it compares to the wider county.
Located in Santa Barbara County, Midland School Trails is one of the best locations for NatureTrack “adventures.” With over 35 trails and dirt roads on 2,860 acres, NatureTrack can offer a variety of “adventures” for students from exceptional geology lessons crossing a 100 – million year old fault, seeing examples of plate tectonics, to exploring multiple habitats, and more, including studying the Native Indians on the site Soxtono kmu, which was the largest Chumash Village in the Santa Ynez Valley. Learning comes alive on the Midland School Trails!
Midland School Trails are nestled between the Los Padres National Forest, the largest national forest in the state, and adjacent to the San Rafael Wilderness Area, home of the Manzana River and its tributaries. Meadows, creeks, cliffs, canyons, and ridgelines; yucca, sycamores, oaks, sage, and poppies; coyotes, wild pigs, wild turkeys, owls, hawks, and eagles; a perfect location to connect with the natural world on one of many NatureTrack “adventures.” The sense of place a student develops at Midland is invaluable and enduring.
Nojoqui Falls lies on the edge between wild lands and agricultural lands, allowing students to see the effects of natural settings and those maintained for harvest and recreation at the lower park. The rolling green of lower fields allows for games introducing concepts from nature in an open setting and the trail to the falls for interpretation of the natural ecology of the area. A very slow moving landslide, shale and a fault at the falls provide geological perspective relative to the Santa Ynez Valley beginning at the lower park. Seasonal waterfalls and riparian habitat with sycamore, bay laurel and the ever – present poison oak contrast with planted areas be low and outside the park boundaries.
Agriculture is nature harnessed for food production and here we are able to point out how the wild native plants live in contrast with those domesticated as crops in a ruderal setting. Often students visit the near by farms in conjunction with our partners, SY Veggie Rescue, which we then label as FarmTrack Adventures. Students learn about organic farming and what makes it different from non-organic farming. Students learn about gleaning, then actual glean produce to be donated to a local non-profit.
A nearby location for Santa Ynez Valley, the Bridge outside Solvang and the pools along river above and below the dam are rich in riparian habitat. From waterfowl to songbirds, the avian population varies with the seasons. In the water are found turtles, frogs and crayfish as well as the tiny denizens of the river bottom. Riparian foliage lines the banks providing homes and habitat for mammals and birds that live here or pass through in migration. Sandy bars read like newspapers with the prints of the wildlife passing since the last high water or rain. A place to learn about the water cycle, erosion, with the movement of rocks over time and the importance of water to the community becomes evident in this easily accessible location. Cattails, willows, sycamore and cottonwoods line the watercourse where the fabric of nature is sustained on the edge of the residential area of Solvang. With the available water, the river is one of the favorite locations among Nature Track adventurers.
Edging down from Figueroa Mountain, the reserve has 6000 acres of re – wilding ranch land suitable for research and outdoor education. Over 40 miles of trails bid the nature explorer to learn about California habitats ranging from chaparral to grasslands. Blue oak woodlands and savanna populated by great valley oaks make up classroom space unequaled between walls. Seasonal changes bring wildflowers in the late winter and spring, with ripening fruits and acorns from late spring through the summer. Early fall or winter rains bring “spring” greenery to the hills. Faults create dual boundaries to the subduction zone with unique geologic and botanic features that provide eyewitness opportunities to experience the effects of ancient seabed geology on the living landscape above the Camuesa Fault zone that can be compared with the lower, younger soils. Pillow lava, blue schist, chert and serpentinite provide readily identifiable geo – markers of the unique mid – ocean strip of land thrust up to the surface. Gray pine, buckwheat and yucca thrive there while in the riparian zone there are mulefat, willow, common monkey flower and juncus. Wildlife is abundant with deer, coyote, squirrels usually seen and more shy animals often present and unseen include bobcat, skunk, rattlesnake and weasel. Most birds seen in Santa Barbara County inland from the shore are present or seen seasonally at the pond and meadows or woodlands at Sedgwick.
In Goleta, this often-overlooked parkland is rich in biodiversity with migratory as well as resident birds present year around. Waterfowl as well as a large variety of songbirds gather for the water and surrounding habitat. Plants vary from exotic palms to native cattails and rushes and attract wild mammals from coyote and fox to gophers, frogs and turtles.
The site of an historical ranch house, the once sizable Goleta bay reached nearly to the present-day small lake. Erosion has filled the bay and created much of the land for present-day residences. A network of trails offers many encounters with the birds and a surprisingly wide variety of plants within short walks. Contrast between the imported plants and the native plants along with the yards of nearby residences are instructive in what is wild and native and what in nature is cultivated.
Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden provides a close-by opportunity for Valley students to experience nature with the contrast of urban interface and the beginning of wild lands. The site affords opportunities for birding, with the well-cared for collection of native plants. Discussion of preserving natural habitats near local population centers can be coupled with the need for wildfire protection to extend this legacy into the future.
Nature art is often a focal part of our program at the site where we take advantage of picnic tables to focus small groups on learning about nature from hands-on contact and expression of appreciation for nature. Learning proper use of binoculars before an in-field birding experience enhances the success of being able to find and focus on the range of birds.
In spring 2020, when the coronavirus hit the United States, the world as we know it changed, but the mission of NatureTrack has not. We pivoted operations from field to film and continued to foster a lifelong fascination with nature through the use of virtual trips and activities that motivate kids to get outside, when and where it’s safe, to explore nature in their own “backyard”.
Each packet highlights one of NatureTrack’s 14 field trip adventures and may include:
Arroyo Burro Beach Virtual Hike Activities:
- Intertidal Zone Wordsearch
- Wordsmith (PDF)
- Fiddler Crabs, NOVA, PBS (Video)
- Documenting the Evidence (PDF)
- Geology Clues (PDF)
- Creative Writing Prompt (PDF)
- How Do Tides Work (Video)
- Tide Terminology Crossword Puzzle
- Rip Currents (Video)
- Chumash Tomol (Video)
- The Rainbow Bridge, A Chumash Legend (Video)
- Sand Globes by Zach Pine (Video)
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Coloring Pages
Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Activities:
Create your own crossword puzzle instructions:
- Watch Part I, II or both of the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Tour
- Write down ten key words or ideas from the video
- Create clues for each of those keywords; for instance (Clue: the state flower. Answer: California poppy)
- Fill in your ten Clues and Answers on the Crossword Fillable Form
- Email your page to NatureTrack at firstname.lastname@example.org
- One submission will be chosen per week, turned into a crossword puzzle and posted on this page. Check back often to see if your page has been chose and solve “your” puzzle!
- Inside a Flower
- Leaf Morphology Video
- Sliding Puzzle
- Cornell Lab – Bird Song Hero
- Shutterbox Video
- Finding Frogs
- Animal Athletes (ENG & ESP)
- Bug Coloring Page
- Willow Maze
Midland Virtual Hike Activities:
- Hike Basics Crossword
- Hike Basics Wordsearch
- Birabent Canyon – Part I Wordsearch
- Birabent Canyon – Part I Crossword
- Birabent Canyon – Part II Wordsearch (Level 1)
- Birabent Canyon – Part II Crossword (Level 1)
- Birabent Canyon – Part II Wordsearch (Level 2)
- Birabent Canyon – Part II Crossword (Level 2)
- Chumash basket-making
- Midland Geology Quiz
- Why and How You Should Start a Sit-Spot Routine
- Play-Dough Topo Activity
- Activities for the Giving Tree
- Discussion Questions for the Giving Tree
- iTree Design
- Tree Factory Activity
Coloring Pages – Cachuma Lake Discovery Book
Guided Activity Videos:
Games & Quizes:
COVID-19 | COVID-19 Protocol | COVID-19 Waiver
Combating COVID-19 with nature! The Mayo Clinic has been ranked one of the top hospitals in the nation for more than 27 years and their recommendation?
“The COVID-19 virus is primarily spread from person to person through respiratory droplets released into the air when talking, coughing, or sneezing. When you’re indoors, you’re more likely to inhale these droplets from an infected person, especially if you’re in close contact, because you’re sharing more air than you do outdoors. Poor building ventilation can cause droplets to hang in the air for a longer period of time, adding to the potential for infection.
When you’re outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So, you’re less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.
Being outside offers other benefits, too. It offers an emotional boost and can help you feel less tense, stressed, angry or depressed.”
In light of long-term distance learning, teachers, parents, and students are calling for time away from the “screen”, social interaction, and outside activity. Educators, health professionals, and laymen alike agree that these factors are more crucial than ever to the mental and physical health of this generation.
NatureTrack is committed to meeting that need by tailoring traditional outdoor field trips [link to field trip page] to meet COVID health and safety guidelines, so kids can continue to be kids – to get outside, to run, to explore, to share their enthusiasm and excitement with others.
Specially trained naturalists, who enjoy sharing their knowledge and love of the outdoors with students, lead NatureTrack adventures. Santa Barbara County is one of 35 global biodiversity hotspots giving students the opportunity to explore habitat types ranging from lush coastal wetlands/beaches and dry interior grasslands, to foothill oak woodlands and savannas, to hill slopes covered by coastal scrub and chaparral, to mountain tops of mixed oak and pine forests.
Teachers can specify which topics, NGSS core ideas, or crosscutting concepts they would like to see emphasized to facilitate student’s connection and continuity with in-classroom units of study.
I hope that all of the teachers at my school will get their kids out into the woods with this program, as I am confident that it is precisely this type of experience that helps kids get excited about science and to cultivate a real respect and reverence for the natural world. This respect is key so that they are able to fulfil their responsibility as future stewards of our planet’s fragile resources and open spaces."