N.C. Arboretum receives $1 million grant for statewide outreach

All across Western North Carolina, teachers and students are headed outdoors to find, observe and photograph local wildlife as a part of ecoEXPLORE, a citizen science program developed by The North Carolina Arboretum. Kids in grades K-8 who participate in ecoEXPLORE can earn prizes and help professional researchers by cataloging the plants, animals and insects that they find in the wild — or even their own backyards.

The project has been so popular that this year the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation donated $1 million to the arboretum with the intent to expand Project ecoEXPLORE from 23 WNC counties to all 100 counties across the state. The grant will also fund the arboretum’s Project EXPLORE teacher education program and Project OWL, a teacher certification program. Project OWL stands for Outdoor Wonders and Learning.

Crucial to ecoEXPLORE’s success is that the program is free for all students. Any ecoEXPLORER can check out equipment for plant and animal identification, including binoculars, insect nets, iPod Touch units and trail cameras, at the arboretum or public libraries. The arboretum also hosts free events for the program, such as the upcoming “What Goes HOP in the Night!” nocturnal amphibian demonstration on Friday, May 10, from 8-10 p.m.

“In a way, this is truly a public program. Any kid, anywhere in North Carolina once we implement this, is going to be able to access [ecoEXPLORE] through public libraries and other public partners,” Briggs says. University and community college campuses, parks and nature centers, he adds, may all play a role in the program’s expansion.

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