Looking Forward to Summer with the Truckee Donner Land Trust

Looking Forward to Summer with the Truckee Donner Land Trust

Headwaters Science Institute is lucky to be able to bring our summer camps to Truckee Donner Land Trust Land. Campers explore the natural spaces, ask scientific questions, and design and conduct experiments to answer their own questions. Science is fun and engaging when children get to ask and answer the questions they are curious about, and these fun camps help foster a unique connection between campers and the land. The foundations of our overnight programs are scientific research, mentorship, and professional caliber scientific exploration, helping these future scientists hone important skills. 

We have the pleasure of learning more about the Truckee Donner Land Trust, their work, and the lands they protect as campers are starting to register for camp

Girls summer science camp participants

Hi, Greyson! It’s certainly still winter here, but thank you so much for joining Headwaters to talk about summer! And thank you to the Truckee Donner Land Trust for allowing Headwaters Summer Camps to explore, learn, and discover at some of your sites! Could you introduce a little bit about TDLT?

Hi Megan! All of us here at the Truckee Donner Land Trust love working with Headwaters Science Institute to get young people out on our lands. Since the Land Trust was founded in 1990, we have protected more than 40,000 acres of open space in our region. We also manage about 50 miles of trail, a campground, and backcountry huts to get people out to enjoy those lands. Some protected lands folks might know include Waddle Ranch in the Martis Valley, Royal Gorge on Donner Summit, Independence Lake, Perazzo Meadows, and Lower Carpenter Valley. Some of our trails include the Donner Lake Rim Trail, Royal Gorge Rim Trail, and Elizabethtown Meadows Trail.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust mission includes both Protect and Enjoy. What does that mean to the land trust, and why is it important to help campers get out onto TDLT land?

Truckee Donner Land Trust’s mission is to Protect and Enjoy Open Space for Nature, For People, Forever. This means we choose our conservation projects to help protect natural resources like forests, meadows, wildlife habitat, and watersheds – and also to allow for sustainable access and recreation for the public to enjoy. Getting Headwaters’ campers out on our Lands is a great way to get young people out on our lands and appreciating the nature all around them, and hopefully giving them a lifelong interest in both enjoying and protecting the outdoors.

Headwaters’ camps are happening again this year at Webber Lake, Serene Lakes, and our Truckee Young Scientist Exploration Camp has a new location at Johnson Canyon. What should campers be looking forward to about these sites?

Webber Lake is a truly special place with not only the beautiful lake, but also Lacey Meadows to explore. The sound of sandhill cranes ringing across the lake while the mist clears from the lake in the morning is a really magical experience. Our Royal Gorge property up near Serene Lake is also a great place to get to know our local ecology. Sitting on the crest, it’s the headwaters of both the North Fork American and South Yuba River, with beautiful meadows, forests, and incredible views down into the American River Canyon. And Johnson Canyon is such a great property because it’s so easy to access, but so quick to get into a unique mix of flora and fauna. Seeps and springs keep lush fern mats green well into the summer, and the variety of riparian plants really make this a great place to learn.

Are there any activities that campers and families, and the wider Headwaters community, can participate in while enjoying TDLT land this year? 

Truckee Donner Land Trust definitely suggests getting out on other Land Trust lands. Using our new interactive map here: https://www.truckeedonnerlandtrust.org/explore is a great way to get to know Land Trust lands and trails, and of course we’re always happy to talk if you want to give us a call at (530)582-4711. Each summer the Land Trust offers docent-led hikes if you want a little help getting to know a new place, and trail days where volunteers help build and repair trails for those interested in a fun way to give back.

What advice would you give to the Headwaters community about exploring TDLT land and the surrounding area? Where should they go and when, but also how should they be good stewards of the space while enjoying the land?

There are year-round opportunities to enjoy Land Trust lands, with a variety of properties at different elevations throughout our region. In the winter, Johnson Canyon has become popular for snow play, as well as access to bigger backcountry pursuits. If you’re waiting for snow to melt, Elizabethtown Meadows Trail in the Martis Valley is typically one of the first trails to be accessible. Wildflowers in Lower Carpenter Valley are a must in summer, and as summer wears on Royal Gorge up on the summit can be a great place to beat the heat. We do ask that folks check the rules on our website before going, and to practice Leave no Trace to keep our lands beautiful for generations to come. 

And what advice would you, or some of the TDLT staff, have for campers who are budding young scientists who might want to one day work in conservation?

First off, I’d say always be curious, and enjoy the adventures your curiosity takes you on – you never know what you’ll learn. Being outside in nature, learning first-hand in situations like Headwaters Science Institute camps is so important too. There are so many great ways to get involved in conservation as you find out what interests you, so exploring all the different aspects and finding what you’re passionate about is a great place to start. Whether you’re interested in scientific research, doing in-the-field restoration to help strengthen our forests, meadows, or waterways, or if you’re interested in what the Land Trust does to protect land, there are lots of ways to get involved and to make a difference for the future.

Headwaters Camps

Camp registration is open now!

Thank you so much to the Truckee Donner Land Trust for supporting Headwaters camps!

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

October Introduction to Research at Davis Creek

Early in October, we spent part of Washoe County’s fall break with a group of students at our Introduction to Research Camp. These students are from the Reno/Carson area, and they came to Davis Creek Regional Park to learn about science, and conduct research. 

Campers used the forest at Davis Creek Regional Park for inspiration as they came up with research questions for the weekend.

This program was funded by a grant from Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas. Offering camps and other programs at a low cost is made possible through grants like this, and we are grateful to Bass Pro Shop and Cabelas for funding this camp and helping us reach more students. 

We had beautiful early fall weather, and the streams in the park were still flowing, inspiring students to come up with questions on a variety of topics. One group spent the weekend filtering water and measuring pH and total dissolved solids to test water quality, while another group tested fertility of soil at different distances from water sources. The third group was interested in how sunlight affects soil moisture and pH, and what impact that might have on plants. Facilitating this exploration and curiosity in students at a park close to where they all live can be especially impactful because they can bring their findings and knowledge back to their homes and continue to make connections in their own environment. 

Campers Kris and Noah are hard at work collecting data.

After finishing a full day of data collection, campers relaxed by the pond and looked for fish and birds.

Campers Audrey, Marshall, and Maggie are hard at work collecting data.

We spent the evenings telling stories and eating s’mores around a campfire, and showcasing the students’ talents at a talent show. These fun and community building aspects of camp were reflected in conversations with students at the end of the weekend with one student expressing that “my favorite part of camp was meeting new friends” before adding “collecting data was fun too.” The groups presented their findings to their parents at the end of the weekend, and all the students were excited to share their findings, as well as tell their parents stories from the weekend. Students shared that they “learned about the steps to come up with a good answer to a question”, and that “science is about more than just testing things, there’s a lot of steps to it”. 

Morgan Long

Morgan Long

Program Manager

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Virtual Field Notes From Headwaters’ Research Experience and Digital Data Science Camp

Summer Research Experience

For eight weeks this summer, 26 students participated in the Headwaters Summer Research Experience, going through the scientific process. With topics ranging from electric vehicles to ant behavior, these students worked hard all summer long to create some fascinating, complex topics! Students pursued topics they were passionate about for one reason or another

I wanted to be able to study something I am passionate about, which is dance

My family has been impacted by Lyme Disease and that really drives this research

Students worked closely with Headwaters through class and office hours and were guided by professional science mentors who bring expertise and experience to working with students.

It was wonderful to provide high school students with the opportunity to create, design, conduct, and write up a scientific research project. Students were equipped with knowledge regarding research questions given their environment and accessible materials. With creativity and patience, students examined databases, water sources, air quality, and many other topics throughout their local areas. Throughout the data collection process students traveled within their home areas to measure plant density, survey college students, and study microbiological growth in petri dishes. These students ran the gambit for topics, creating captivating and significant data that was later analyzed through Data Classroom.

As the course came to an end, students finished writing their manuscripts and worked on presentations that they gave to their peers, mentors, Headwaters staff, parents, and friends. Our presentation nights were all lively and students did a fantastic job presenting virtually and fielding questions from the audience. Students worked hard to ensure their science communication skills were as effective as their data collection and research question development skills.

At least 12 of these students are going to pursue publishing their research project with the Journal of Emerging Investigators!

One student works on mapping domestic cats to understand exercise impacts. 
As part of a microbiology project, this student meticulously creates her different replicates. 
One student is doing research on the impact of tannins on plants.
Searching for microplastics, this student was able to borrow a microscope from a local school.  

Digital Data Science Camp

The digital data camp was held for the first time in August. Over the course of two weeks, students learned several objectives pertaining to data science and how it impacts their daily lives. From the beginning, students learned what data science is, what career opportunities there may be, and how it impacts their everyday lives. We discussed forms of artificial intelligence that they may interact with on a daily basis including Siri, Alexa, or other voice command AI bots. Students were surprised to learn that data scientists can be found in almost every field from medical science to non-profit organizations! After identifying fields they might be interested in the future, we discussed how data science will play a role in that industry as well. Students shared how they were surprised to know that there were so many different opportunities in the world of data science, no matter their passions.

Students learned to code, walking through this new tool to flex their data visualization muscles, and create graphs and graphics showing different realities from their datasets. Students took the reins in the second week as they identified topics to explore and present.

Students chose topics from fintech to automated driving and began searching for open-source databases to pull CSV (comma-separated values) tables. While working on individual student projects students learned about their specific topic, and how data science impacts that industry. Identifying safe, reliable, complete, open-source databases proved difficult, but students persevered. They worked hard to identify proper questions, databases, and analyses that provided insightful data visualizations for their mini-presentations. This was another fantastic group of students who were dedicated to learning and capped off a wonderful program with a great presentation night!

Watch all of the students’ presentations!

Sign Up the Spring Research Experience

We’re excited to have a new cohort of students pursuing research topics in the spring and you can be one of them!

Courtney Kudera

Courtney Kudera

Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager

Courtney is the Data Analyst and Research Experience Manager. A recent graduate from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she is excited to share her passion for science and data knowledge with Headwaters. Originally from Wyoming, she is excited to make an impact in science education at Headwaters. In her free time, she can be found trail running, painting, doing yoga, or reading.

Summer Camp Field Notes

Summer Camp Field Notes

Headwaters’ summer camps were an absolute blast! Campers of all ages really impressed us with their hard work – especially since planning out their projects and working through the scientific process is often new for them! Campers were challenged to design a testable research question and develop a scientific method for collecting data.They analyzed their data and interpreted their results to determine whether or not they could support their hypothesis! 

Many of our camps also spent time playing games and telling stories around the campfire, of course with s’mores each night, and not only did we hike around each day, but we also went on a short night walk to observe the stars and talk about nocturnal wildlife at camps in the Truckee region!

By taking students outside to learn real-world science, and empowering them to design their own research projects, we are also teaching them critical thinking and communication skills. At Headwaters, our goal is to see these students grow into informed citizens who not only pursue science careers but blossom when faced with opportunities to positively impact society!

Program managers from camps had the following field notes:

Intro to Research Camp

Projects included investigating the effects of pH and temperature on macroinvertebrate biodiversity, identifying if bird populations were more abundant closer or farther from the lake, and examining if tree density affected the number of plant species.

Girls Science Camp

These girls were invested in projects like macroinvertebrate populations in Lacey Stream, pH and DO measurements in Webber Lake, and stump degradation in the forests! 

Webber Lake Environmental Research

Campers investigated projects like investigating macroinvertebrate populations in Lacey Stream and arthropod abundance in Lacey Meadows. On Friday morning, we were joined by the Truckee Donner Land Trust for a docent hike where campers presented their projects to members of the community. 

Serene Lakes Camps

Week 1: Anson Call joined us for a presentation on Aspen trees on Thursday afternoon!

Week 2: We had an exceptional week exploring trees and wildflowers around Serene Lakes. Morgan Long joined us for a scientific presentation on bear denning on Thursday afternoon!

Week 3: We explored animals and insects during week three. Campers questioned whether things like soil moisture, tree species, or sunlight influenced the number of insects they saw. Todd Rawlinson from the U.S. Forest Service joined us Thursday to talk about his work as a wildlife biologist and all of the different aspects of his role.

Truckee Camps

We had an exceptional week exploring the ecosystems around the area to search for different patterns in animals and insects. From meadows to forests, we had no shortage of area to explore. We investigated all sorts of data but campers seemed to really enjoy catching grasshoppers and listening for birds. We even had one group dive deep into some of the math ecologists do to determine the age of trees! 

Richmond Summer Camp 

In June and July, we had a new-to-Headwaters summer camp in Richmond for elementary-aged students!

 We aim to ignite curiosity, deepen campers’ connection with the environment, and explore science in a captivating way, which meant taking these campers on exciting field trips to parks, sanctuaries, and zoos, where they were able to explore the wonders of nature up close! They were particularly excited about insects and their general surroundings, discovering new places like the creek. Each of these field trips was coupled with other outdoor activities, engaging discussions, and scientific method practice, like data collection, which helped campers put the pieces together when it came time to think through the scientific process.

By the end of camp, each child was understanding the scientific process and beginning to see potential career paths they hadn’t thought of before. Plus, their excitement about camp and science grew every day! A beautiful transformation occurred in our attendees. They not only grasped the scientific process but also developed a passion for science-related careers. Their enthusiasm grew daily.

We also spent time bridging science and art through creative thinking, art projects, and fun activities that had the campers learning facts about insects and enhancing engagement, while also flexing their creative muscles and using their imaginative minds. 

Throughout the summer, our campers’ enthusiasm shone in all the activities!

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

McKeesport High School Program Reflection

I’m ecstatic to share the success of our recent program held in a community close to my heart. As a proud McKeesport High School alumnus and native of Grandview, McKeesport, I was honored to give back to the students of the community with a Headwaters experience. I believe in the enriching science experiences that we are able to provide through Headwaters programs, which is why I reached out to Marla Hayes, one of my former biology teachers, about bringing this opportunity to McKeesport!

For me, science isn’t just about reading information from a textbook. It’s the process of assessing information and empowering oneself with a data-driven approach to tackle the world around us. I always had a knack for memorizing information, which allowed me to excel in school, but learning how to apply the scientific method to everyday life was a game-changer.

The students at McKeesport were able to learn about the subject matter and develop critical thinking skills in the course of the program. Teachers are faced with the large task of engaging students in science. This can be overwhelming, especially with a lack of resources or support. Luckily, Headwaters is here to help and I was excited to facilitate this program that pairs classroom materials with a field experience that brings science to life for the McKeesport students. We take students’ natural curiosity and we explore the scientific process in new ways and that makes science approachable. Science not only prepares these students for research, but it prepares them for the real world.

It’s always rewarding to guide students through the process of science, nurture their curiosity, and promote critical thinking. And being able to bring a Headwaters program to my hometown made it even more special! These McKeesport students were all smiles, enthusiasm, and engagement and some of them will join the next generation of problem solvers and future innovators! 

Students really enjoyed the program and also expressed that they grew more confident in science!

  • 100.00% of students reported being more familiar with scientific research.
  • 81.25% of students reported an increase in confidence when analyzing a given set of data.
  • 93.75% agreed that they learned something they would not have in a traditional classroom
  • 86.67% reported enjoying science more after participating in the program.
  • 86.67% reported having a satisfying experience in our program.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, Nature’s Way Markets, and the Tuscano Agency for helping to fund programs that empower our youth and to, Powdermill Nature Reserve for providing a unique location to collect field data. We couldn’t do this work without you and all our Pennsylvania donors, so thank you for helping us shape the future.

Remember, if you would like to learn more about our programs or get involved, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always excited to connect with individuals and organizations passionate about science education and empowering the next generation of innovators. 

Dan Dudek

Dan Dudek

Research Experience and Data Manager