Pittsburgh (May 28, 2019) – The Allegheny County Library Association, Allegheny County Parks, Allegheny Land Trust and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy are teaming up to launch a nature backpack program at various county libraries. The program is aimed at encouraging children and families to get outside and explore the region’s natural assets, while allowing children to discover and learn about the many native species within Western Pennsylvania.
Backpacks are located at 37 of the 46 county libraries (more locations by the end of the summer) and are searchable in the online catalog by the keywords “nature backpacks.” The five broad themes for the backpacks are water, land, cultural, wildlife and plants. Within those themes are various sub-themes, including conservation, wildflowers, butterflies and wetlands.
The nature backpacks include field guides, tools for exploration and a folder of resources, including maps of local green spaces. As an example, Community Library of Allegheny Valley has a bird themed nature backpack that connects explorers to Harrison Hills and Deer Lakes Parks. The birding backpack has field guides relating to various types of birds, binoculars and Identiflyer – a tool that lets users hear different bird calls. There is also a guide to the backpack with tips for exploration, suggestions for seeing various birds, how to use the tools provided in the bag, nature journal prompts, common species of birds and recommended reading for further exploration. In addition to the guide, the resource folder also includes a tick ID card, poison ivy ID sheet, maps of Deer Lakes and Harrison Hills Parks and a Leave No Trace Ethics card.
To incentivize backpack use and exploration of more than one theme/green space, the partners created the Nature Explorer Program (NEP). Participants can sign up at a participating library and receive a NEP Passport and nature journal. Children and families that complete four of the five themes and have the passport stamped will receive a certificate and small nature item to use for future exploring.
“Children these days aren’t as comfortable with unstructured outdoor play,” said Julie Travaglini, education program director for the Allegheny Land Trust. “This program provides some structure and basic guidance that helps kids get outside and explore the parks, greenspaces and conservation areas around Allegheny County.”
The program and backpacks also encourage children to become citizen scientists. Using their smartphone or tablet, they can utilize the Seek by iNaturalist app to track native and invasive species during their exploration process.
The program is ongoing, and the bags will be available for use starting in June at county libraries.
About Allegheny County Library Association
The Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) is a system of 46 independent public libraries with more than 70 locations that work together, share resources and cooperate to better serve county residents. These libraries are community connectors providing opportunities for personal and professional development through access to content and experiences for all ages. ACLA libraries support education and exploration while developing early literacy skills, school readiness and lifelong learning.