The Brook Never Sleeps - Uxbridge Youth Centre, Uxbridge Watershed Advisory Committee (Canada)
Rain or shine, sleet or snow, young people eagerly wade into the frigid waters of their local creek to meet and learn about the aquatic inhabitants and their habitat needs.
To connect young people with their local stream as a window into their local environment and ecosystem.
We wanted to give local youth a chance to experience a natural and historic part of their town through fun, outdoor activities, as a way to build understanding, appreciation and caring for local ecosystems. Like many streams in southern Ontario, Uxbridge Brook provided the early waterpower that attracted people to settle and build this town’s historic grist mills, sawmills and other streamside developments. Earlier, Indigenous People enjoyed the brook’s fish and its clear, cool waters. But today, even though the stream flows through the centre of town – directly beneath the local youth centre, in fact – the historic connection with the stream seems to have been lost. Young people pass by the brook daily, but rarely explore this flowing, living and still-healthy habitat in their backyard. Meanwhile, local groups were interested in promoting outdoor activities and environmental awareness programs for youth, and were looking for opportunities to work together to build such programming for the general public. In 2001, staff and volunteers from the Uxbridge Youth Centre, with the brook flowing beneath their feet, decided to reach out to the Uxbridge Watershed Advisory Committee, with expertise and an interest in youth outreach. The result: The Brook Never Sleeps!
We developed a network of partners who now annually deliver a free, day-long, hands-on, outdoor-based eco-awareness program for young people that is offered during the local schools’ yearly March Break.
The idea began with a community member who helped bring together a number of local groups with a mutual interest in connecting youth with the environment. Each group had their own audience, profile and resources to bring to bear on the new project. The goal was always clear: giving young people a positive experience while connecting in a hands-on way with nature. The organizers reached out to other partners right from the beginning, and the spirit of collaboration is what has made this annual program a success. The highlight of each day is the in-stream sampling of aquatic invertebrates and other creatures – a real eye-opener for the participants. Each year the mix of partners and programming ebbs and flows with the abilities and interests of the partnership, always with a focus on providing a great day for young people. The number of partners has always ensures a high adult/youth ratio, helping to ensure a safe, focussed environmental awareness experience.
Our program has given close to 300 young participants some high quality hands-on experiences with aquatic ecology. It is run only once a year (so far!) but has caught the attention of conservation groups who have awarded the event with The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Foundation Education Award, the Oak Ridges Moraine Environmental Heroes Award and a Durham Region Environmental Achievement Award. But the greatest reward is the smiles and laughter, the exclamations when a minnow or interesting aquatic insect is caught, and remarks like “I thought this would suck, but it’s actually pretty cool!” It has also spun off into other projects such as tree planting, riparian buffer creation and stream clean-ups in the area.
Emphasize hands-on, outdoor programming versus indoor adult presentations
Stick to outdoor activities despite cold, rain, snow etc., and ensure participants are prepared for this – young people experiencing and “surviving” such adversity strengthens the memory
Develop an inclusive approach to partnerships from the beginning – put the focus on the event rather than the delivery agents