Wintery classroom at Crater Lake National Park
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
April 25, 2005
“I’m hungry,” one youngster growled.
“Catch a vole,” teased her friend.
Someone had paid attention.
The two were among a parade of Ferguson Elementary School fifth graders trailing single-file behind Karen Kanes, a Crater Lake National Park ranger who, like a snowshoed Pied Piper, was leading them through tall spiring pines and hemlocks.
Minutes earlier, during a stop on their snowshoe trek near Rim Village, Kanes had explained how red foxes, one of the park’s most active winter residents, catch and eat voles, little shaggy-haired rodents that mostly live underneath the snow.
It had taken little urging from Kanes to get the students to, like hungry foxes, leap high and pounce on the snow in pursuit of imaginary voles.
And it was only minutes later, after tramping over the snow to a clearing, that Kanes again mixed information with fun.
After instructing the students to line up side-by-side, and directing teacher Linda Kehr and 11 parents to form a second row, Kanes announced the students were voles, and the adults were foxes – very hungry foxes.
On command, the “voles” galloped helter-skelter pursued by “foxes.” Snowshoes flailed, kids yelped and adults whooped in a sudden cloud of flying snow.
“School was never like this when I was a kid,” said one happily grinning parent, gasping for breath.
A few days earlier, in the calm and warmth of their suburban Klamath Falls classroom, Kehr and the students discussed how animals adapt so they can survive in snowy winter environments.
She fluffed a large container filled with imitation snow, displayed an odd collection of materials – cotton balls, tape, scissors, toothpicks, random sized pieces of paper, pieces of cardboard, tongue depressors, Popsicle sticks, paper clips, rubber bands, string – and, with surprising little direction, divided students into groups of three to five.
She assigned them to use the materials to design and devise some type of platform that would enable an imaginary animal to stay atop the “snow.”
The students, who quickly divided into groups, penciled quick sketches then began concocting wildly varied and imaginative platforms. Some looked like flip-flop sandals, others like funny animals with oversized, circular feet. Many were architectural marvels that defy description. No two looked alike.
Each device was tested one-by-one as a chorus of onlookers groaned or, more often, cheered. Some crumpled under the weight of Kehr’s animal, a glue bottle. Only a few quickly sank. Most, especially those with spans that distributed the weight, “floated” on the snow.
Last fall, shortly after the beginning of the current school year, Kehr and her class visited Crater Lake. They hiked around the picnic area behind the road that connects Rim Village with the Crater Lake Lodge.
They learned about volcanoes, the cataclysmic events that created the lake and studied lichen high on the trees. The places where the lichen begins, they were told, reflects the snow depth in winter.
“It’s not just a trip to Crater Lake,” Kehr said, explaining how her class had studied aspects of geology, biology and animal life during the fall visit and over several weeks of classroom presentations.
Kehr and her students are among the 30 Southern Oregon elementary schools participating in the “Classroom at Crater Lake,” a program created as part of the developing Crater Lake Science and Learning Center through the Crater Lake Trust. The center, located at two historic park buildings – one as a laboratory, the other as a dormitory – will officially open in July 2006 to scientists, researchers and graduate students. The “classroom,” which provides instructional materials and grants for bus travel, is in its second year.
“Kids will remember when they go to a place,” Kehr said. “When they’ve been out there and seen it and done it, they remember it. And,” she added, smiling, “It’s fun.”
Fun it was.
Even on a spring day the snow was falling. Kanes urged the students to catch the snowflakes, to study their shapes and sizes. She told how tiny molecules of water attach to specks of dust or dirt, and how they jointly freeze into snow.
She directed them to grab handfuls of snow and imagine their hands and arms were snow-covered tree limbs. Then, as the students outstretched arms grew weary, she told them to relax. As the hands dropped, so did the snow.
Kanes talked about deer and elk, animals that leave in winter for less snowy climates.
She told of critters that stay and how they adapt. Voles, she explained, spend summer months storing food. In winter they live in the deep, less compacted sugary snow, where they huddle together for warmth, dig and move through tunnels. And told how foxes, stalking stealth-like for prey, listen for the soft murmurs of voles peeking out for air.
After their hour and a half snowshoe, shivering students and adults huddled in their heated school bus. Excited chatter filled the air. Everyone dug into their packed lunches.
Just like the foxes and voles, they were adapting to a wintry day at their Crater Lake classroom.