Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nature, Art and History at the Norman Bird Sanctuary

 Tucked away on Third Beach Road in Middletown, R.I. is a natural haven known as the Norman Bird Sanctuary (NBS).  In 1949 Mabel Norman Cerio willed approximately 235 acres of land, a portion of her original Paradise Farm in Middletown, Rhode Island, "for the propagation, preservation and protection of birds, and where birds and bird life may be observed, studied, taught and enjoyed by lovers of nature and by the public generally so interested in a spirit of humanity and mercy." Over the years, NBS has grown to include more than 325 acres of diverse habitats, and its mission remains true to Mabel Norman Cerio's original vision.
With seven miles of trails, a visitor’s center, beach education center, natural history museum, vegetable garden, chicken coup, and gift shop, the NBS offers entertainment and education to every visitor. With camp programs, field trips, garden workshops, harvest fairs and more, the Norman Bird Sanctuary is a leader in environmental education in Rhode Island.
Exploring the beach.
This summer NBS received a grant from The Rhode Island Foundation’s Newport County Fund to turn their original small garden plot into an educational, multi-garden area called The Good Gardens and to provide education programs on gardening to community organizations.  A partnership with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center (MLK) in Newport was established. This partnership has brought the children of the MLK Center out to the Sanctuary to learn about gardening and how the coastal environment played a role in Native American gardening.   Each week a new group of students from kindergarten through grade 6 take a field trip to NBS. The field trip begins with a tour around the touch tanks in the Third Beach Education Center where the NBS has collected many specimens of local fish as well as some tropical species that have traveled north on the Gulfstream and come into our estuary. Then they head over to Third Beach to explore the shore. After collecting the coolest things they could find, the children learn about what they found.
Listening to the sound of the ocean through a whelk shell.
The counselors also show the children how Native Americans used the natural resources. For example, the purple inside of a quahog shell was used as currency known as wampum. The Native Americans also used seaweed to fertilize their crops, shells to make gardening tools, and whelk egg casings as baby rattles.
After exploring the beach the camp returns to the Sanctuary to investigate the farm. They learn about vegetables, herbs and fruits, and how they are grown. NBS has used a Native American technique known as “three sisters” in their garden. The three sisters are corn, squash and beans. Corn is planted in the middle, beans are next so they can grow up the corn and squash are planted around the base of the corn.  The bean vines produce nitrogen in the soil—providing nutrients to all the plants.
Corn, squash and green beans grow very well
together and make up the three sisters.
After learning how the garden grows, the children got a taste of the ripe vegetables they found in the garden. Although not all children willingly eat vegetables, some found they actually enjoyed zucchini, tomatoes broccoli and cucumbers. In fact, some children began asking their parents to pick up zucchini and squash at the MLK pantry!
Aside from the hands-on outdoor experience this partnership offers to the children in Newport, it will also provide funding and technical assistance to install a garden center at the Martin Luther King Center.
This past year NBS also developed a partnership with Central Falls High School, where the students were given the opportunity to take field trips to the Sanctuary, learn about the plants, animals and natural history of the area. They brought their knowledge back to the city with them. After cleaning up their neighborhood park they planted trees and a peace garden with the students from other Central Falls schools. The students at Central Falls High School confidently spread their environmental literacy through a YouTube video.
But children’s education is not all they do at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. There are many events for adults as well. In September they will host a number of events for families and adults. Something of That Nature, an art show inspired by nature and the Norman Bird Sanctuary, will be held at the Third Beach Education Center September 9th through the 11th. The event is free and open to the public. As is their international coastal clean up on September 24th.
These mushrooms were found in New
Hampshire, but mushrooms thrive in
moist areas, so you are bound to see a
lot on the hike!
The Norman Bird Sanctuary will also host a Mushroom Walk in the Woods on Saturday the 17th for $10-members, $12-non-members. They also offer field trips for homeschooling, story-time in the garden, bird walks, and garden classes. Their annual fall Harvest Fair is scheduled for October 1st – 2nd.  To learn more about these special events go to www.normanbirdsanctuary.org.
Whether you are an avid birder, a natural explorer, or just want a place to walk around in nature, the Norman Bird Sanctuary offers the perfect place for you to observe, learn and enjoy some of the natural habitats and resources our state has to offer.

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