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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jason Stuart photo

Makoshika prepares travel trunks for teachers

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Makoshika State Park is in the process of expanding the educational offerings available to school groups in order to increase the educational value of classes taking field trips to the park.

Makoshika manager Chris Dantic said that when he took over management of the park last year, one of his top priorities was to enhance its educational offerings. He said at his previous posts, like at Chief Plenty Coups State Park, he had established much more robust educational programs. He noted that despite Chief Plenty Coups’ relative isolation, he was averaging about 2,500 students a year coming through on class field trips. Makoshika, by contrast, despite being much more easily accessible than Chief Plenty Coups, is only averaging about 500 students a year.

Dantic said that to his mind, Makoshika simply didn’t have enough set up to be of much educational value for class field trips.

“Normally when field trips come in, they get a visitors center tour and a hike and that’s it,” he said. “So we don’t get a whole lot of field trips in here.”

Besides not having much educational material on hand, Dantic said that with school budgets tightening all across the region, the park really needs to have something to make it worth a school’s time and money to send a field trip to Makoshika.

“Schools have cracked down (on field trips), so if you’re going to the state park, you better be learning something,” he said.

So, in order for students to learn something when they visit Makoshika on a class field trip, Dantic has had his two AmeriCorps volunteers hard at work putting together educational “travel trunks,” on a variety of educational subjects and topics. 

Each trunk contains a wide variety of educational materials geared towards a specific topic. Some examples of the trunks being put together include ones for mammals, birds, weather, geology, Native American studies, health and fitness and, of course, paleontology. Once completed, teachers will be able to check out the trunks prior to their field trip to Makoshika. If local, they can pick one up or park staff can deliver it to them, or if from further afield, Dantic said he can make arrangements to ship it.

“The idea for these trunks is to get these kids to come out here and experience different topics and have a better learning experience in the park,” said AmeriCorps volunteer Eileen Gutierrez. “(The trunks) are pretty diverse in terms of learning content.”

Her partner in the project, AmeriCorps volunteer Megan Betcher, added that each trunk is “extremely customizable” as well and noted that besides containing lesson plans for teachers to use, each trunk also contains plenty of “interactive, hands-on materials, lots of things for them to observe and touch and see.”

Dantic said he thinks the project will immediately enhance the educational value of bringing class field trips into Makoshika.

“If they’ve got some kind of lesson plan then they can match any of that curriculum,” he said. “It’ll be more of an education day than a day off from the classroom.”

He added that unlike in the past, teachers will now be able to make repeat trips with their classes to Makoshika and actually have a different experience each time.

“You can come here every single year and get some kind of different program,” Dantic said.

Makoshika will be holding an Open House for area educators on the evening of Sept. 14 to further discuss with them the park’s new educational offerings. For more information, contact Dantic at 377-6256.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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