In Columbia County, New York, budding naturalists can check out Hudson Valley nature with only a library card — and a sense of adventure.
Libraries around the county make nature-based Explorer Backpacks available free of charge, thanks to the accredited Columbia Land Conservancy and a grant from the Conservation Partnership Program, which is administered by the Land Trust Alliance and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Each backpack kit is themed and contains supplies and activities that a young scientist might use for exploring nature. Themes include the night sky, hiking, birding, insects, and water.
The insect explorer backpack includes a net, a journal to record discoveries, and magnifiers to closely inspect insects. The night sky backpack contains a telescope and constellation chart, while the birding pack has binoculars and field guides.
“We wanted to provide resources for community members to get out there and explore the land, without having to spend their own money on equipment,” says Heidi Bock, Columbia Land Conservancy’s Director of Land Stewardship & Community Partnerships.
The Land Trust Alliance grant also supports Columbia Land Conservancy’s work to develop new community programs based on the backpack themes and install Nature Quest trails at 10 Public Conservation Areas.
“CLC developed the Nature Quest program as a sort of treasure hunt on the Public Conservation Areas over a decade ago,” says Bock. “We’re bringing it back, and better than ever! During the pandemic, visit rates to our sites nearly doubled, and we’re really excited to be able to provide another way for our community to experience nature.”