October 17, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Recently a group of women who are natural resources and environmental leaders in their home counties came together for two days of learning about watersheds during the "A Walk in Autumn" conference at Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County. They hope to take their new knowledge home and teach others by non-traditional methods, including the arts.

Women from the Northeast Area attended the conference free of charge and will even have teaching materials to use in their counties thanks to a generous grant the project received. They studied a wide variety of topics during interactive workshops including outdoor photography, watershed monitoring, agricultural water quality and the biodiversity of Kentucky streams and forests.

"What we hope to achieve over a series of four trainings over four years is to have a core group of people who can go out into the community and reach non-traditional audiences with natural resources education," said Gwenda Adkins, program coordinator and Extension agent for family and consumer sciences in Elliot County. "Last year was our first conference and we studied the forest. This year we're studying streams and water quality and next year we'll study land use throughout history -- from prehistoric times through modern agriculture."

Adkins said the different programs also focus on teamwork and building self-esteem so the participants will have confidence to relay their knowledge when they go home. A big part of the conference was focused on finding non-traditional teaching methods. With the help of five artists, the women learned that natural resource education can be passed on through storytelling, painting, photography and even singing.

"By combining the arts, which is a long-time hobby for women, and the environment they will have a new way of teaching a non-traditional audience," Adkins said. "The artists with us have been trained with the Kentucky Program Studies through the Kentucky Arts Council. It's a true partnership aimed at teaching youth and adults."

One artist is Christie Cook from Johnson County. Cook has spent more than 25 years, either as a volunteer or professional children's librarian, relating themes of books through storytelling. Her new job as the Johnson County Conservation District's environmental educator allows her to combine her storytelling skills with newfound knowledge about the environment.

"I know the power of the picture book and how it helps relate concepts," Cook said. "Also because the educational system emphasizes literature and reading material, I feel like if our participants go into the classroom armed with picture books and literature, then there's more credibility for them with that teacher. Plus, it helps expand the teacher's knowledge of all the ecological literature out there."

Cook was encouraged by her district conservationist to attend the first Walk in Autumn last year because she is a large landowner and also as part of training for her new job. After her first year, she was so encouraged by the program that she wanted to be a part of the planning team with Adkins.

"I saw how empowered the women were after they'd attended this conference and gained all this new knowledge," she said. "They were going to go back to their counties and teaching others."

Adkins said participants must formulate some type of education plan that they will commit to follow through with when they go home. During the conference they wrote memos to themselves that will be sent out throughout the year as reminders of that commitment.

Conference participant Flo Whitley of Elliot County is an environmental volunteer and a homemaker. She said her knowledge from the conference would be invaluable.

"We're building a welcome center for Laurel Gorge back home and we'll be doing environmental education in the center," she said. "I hope that all kinds of people will be able to learn the things I've learned here this week when I start volunteering at the center.

Adkins was encouraged by the participation in the event and was grateful for support from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Kentucky Environmental Education Council, Daniel Boone National Forest, and Prestonsburg Community College.


Gwenda Adkins  606-738-6400