Each year more than 3,000 students from dozens of elementary and high schools throughout the greater Los Angeles area visit the Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve for programs in the natural history of chaparral and oak woodlands, local geology, and the history of the Chumash people. The program, coordinated by the Cold Creek Docents, has been running continuously on the site since 1977.
The three-hour school programs are often customized to meet the needs of individual teachers. In most cases, classes of sixty to seventy students arrive by bus and are divided into groups of ten to twelve. Each group then takes a 1.5-mile hike through several plant/animal communities to experience those communities firsthand, while a docent explains relevant ecological concepts. The latter part of the program is held in the reserve’s educational zone where students take part in a rotation of activities that includes discussing Chumash village life, examining preserved animal specimens, grinding acorns, experimenting with “cave wall” painting, playing Native American games, and watching tool-making demonstrations.
Located in a relatively undisturbed watershed of the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounded by 1,500 acres of protected open space, the Stunt Ranch Santa Monica Mountains Reserve provides a perfect place to introduce local students to the environment. The diversity of animal and plant life along the stream and the proximity of a number of different natural communities offer a rich environment for exploration.
Most of the students who visit the reserve are from the inner city. They have grown up in an urban environment, and this is often their first experience with a natural area. Some are uncomfortable with the mountains and chaparral. Many worry about rattlesnakes and mountain lions. But under the careful guidance of the docents, the students gradually become familiar with the outdoor environment. They leave the program with a sense of accomplishment, as well as an understanding of the importance of resource conservation.
This program is a collaboration between UCLA, the reserve’s administering campus, and the Cold Creek Docents, the educational component of the nonprofit Mountains Restoration Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Cold Creek Docents
For over a quarter century, the Cold Creek Docents have persevered through wildfires, earthquakes, torrential rains, and landslides to provide an award-winning environmental education program to schools throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
Each year new and continuing docents spend two months in weekly training courses conducted by experts in such areas as wildlife behavior, ecological principles and communities, geology, aquatic resources, and Chumash/Tongva culture. In 1993, the group was recognized with the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for their unique archaeology education program. In 1995, they received a Take Pride in California award from the California Department of State Parks.