America and South Dakota are in the midst of one of the most profound and rapid societal changes in history. Today's generation of children is the first to grow up indoors. Their plugged in lives are largely devoid of exploring the natural world. This movement is not benign; there are costs to the health and mental well-being of our children. Additionally, if children are detaching from nature, how will they come to understand and value nature? How will the next generation become good stewards of Earth's resources? (Why Teach Environmental Education?, American Forest Foundation, www.americanforestfoundation.com)
Rotary International has concern for both the world's children and our environment. Pierre-Fort Pierre Rotary are concerned as well. We live on the Missouri River yet many of our kids aren't inspired to explore it. Families leave litter and all out garbage along the river's banks. Our economy depends on our ability to grow plants but our kids see us covering the soil with buildings and chemicals. With a two story environmental education treehouse we can attract kids attention to the hands-on exhibits inside that will involve the kids and their families in memorable lessons about aspects of our environment. The exhibits, particularly the SD Soil Health exhibit that will be first featured, will provide activities that show families why natural resources are important to them, get them interacting with parts of the resource and introduce them to action they can take to enjoy and protect the resource.
The Rotary Environmental Education Treehouse with span two-stories inside the 40ft SD tall SD Discovery Center exhibit hall. Two sides of treehouse, located on the SDDC balcony, will overlook the city's Mayors' Arboretum to the Missouri River, through 10ft windows. Permanent binoculars, tree keys, bird and cloud identification activities can draw families attention to the nature around them and help them learn to use scientific tools to observe their world. The additional south side of the treehouse will over look the SDDC exhibit hall and the east side will be open space for housing hands-on activities based upon environmental topics. A couple of these rotating options include Native Waters - an exhibit that teaches water conservation through a native American cultural perspective and Animals as Architects which amazes kids with the engineering prowess of of bugs, birds and other animals. Our communities, Pierre and Fort Pierre, are home to bald eagle nesting sites, so we plan to add a life-sized eagle nest for kids to role-play nesting activity and view live feed from nests in the wild.
From the top of the treehouse the kids will walk down an existing set of stairs that will be encased by the trunk of the tree, loosely model after South Dakota largest cottonwood tree. As they travel down, they will have opportunity to explore how a tree grows and discovery the life that the tree supports.
At the base of the tree, under the SDDC balcony, kids enter the underground world. Here young children will crawl through the tree roots to meet their inhabitants. At professionally designed stations, kids will become worms, tardigrades and other critters critical to soil health.
Phase one of the treehouse project will be kicked off in late September with a "before" party at which Rotarians and their families will view the current "mini" treehouse that inspired this project, they will get a "tour" of the new treehouse ideas and will sign up to participate in the various committees (event, design, build, fundraising, grant writing, photography, media, etc. It is a project goal to have all 100+ Rotarians in our club have their hands-on this project in some way.
In phase one of this two year project, the Rotary Treehouse Design committee will work with SDDC and the professional exhibit design company, Kidzibits, to create the design and building plan for the treehouse. Like a real tree, the Rotary Treehouse exhibit will grow from the ground-up, with Rotarians building the "underground" portion of the exhibit first. It should be complete and possibly usable by visitors by September 30, 2020.
The SD Natural Resource Conservation Service has identified the need to teach children and their families about the importance of soil health. For this reason, they have committed funding to help design and build this exhibit, about $45,000 for phase one. These funds will cover much of the work to design the eight hands-on, critter kiosks where kids will role-play the activity of living things in the soil. The $30,000 of Rotary contribution will fund professional design of the tree root climbing structure,
and any supplies and/or professional work needed for the adaptation of the space under the balcony to an under the soil world.