Handmade benches made from trees felled by a storm await visitors to Holiday Beach Conservation Area’s new outdoor classroom.
The beautiful, well-treed setting will welcome generations of eager learners and is thanks to the generosity of the University of Windsor Alumni Association.
The association, which made a $50,000 donation in 2019 toward both the outdoor classroom at Holiday Beach and for research at the 10-acre Lebo Creek Wetland in Leamington, dedicated the classroom Wednesday during Alumni Week at the university.
“This outdoor classroom is especially vital during these challenging times when students of all ages are learning in unprecedented and unique ways,” said Beth Ann Prince, alumni association president.
“As many of us have been reconnecting with nature and our environment during the pandemic, this space will help students make this connection for years to come,” Prince said. “We know there is compelling evidence that shows introducing kids to nature has numerous health benefits including increased physical activity, better concentration, reduced symptoms of anxiety and of course improved energy.”
School children will use the space during field trips to the conservation area.
“In addition to our younger learners, this space will also be used by our university students,” Prince said. “UWindsor ornithology student researchers will utilize this space to conduct important field work.
“This research and work conducted right here in this new outdoor classroom and in collaboration with ERCA will leave a lasting impression on the area’s rich environment and will benefit students of all ages for years to come,” she said.
The area used for the classroom has a small stage and benches made from trees toppled at the park during a storm last year. The area’s base was raised to remedy previous wet conditions.
“Like the University of Windsor, Essex Region Conservation believes outdoor education is a building block for the success of future generations,” said Claire Wales, vice-president of the Essex Region Conservation Foundation.
“We’ve particularly seen over these last challenging months connections with nature that continue to be unparalleled to our mental and physical wellbeing,” Wales said. “The classroom will allow educators to connect with students in this beautiful outdoor space, connecting them with the wonders of nature.”
In addition to providing enhanced learning experiences, Wales said the outdoor classroom will be used for educational workshops such as migration talks and banding demonstrations.
The Amherstburg conservation area, located on the shore of Lake Erie, is well-known for its spectacular raptor migration.
Holiday Beach migration observatory bird bander Bob Hall-Brooks displayed a female sharp-shinned hawk, caught that morning.
Hall-Brooks said the sharp-shinned hawk is commonly seen coming through the area in the fall.
Sharp-shinned hawks are agile fliers who speed through dense woods to surprise their prey, typically songbirds or small mammals.
“If you look at the bird, when it’s focused on its prey, it doesn’t matter where the bird is moving it stays focused,” Hall-Brooks explained.
Born this year, the young hawk was heading south for the winter. It was released during the ceremony.