It was a whirlwind adventure for The North Carolina Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE team: visiting 10 state parks in 10 days. They began with animal encounters at Chimney Rock State Park and a salamander meander at nearby Rumbling Bald. From there they and their eco-friendly Prius travelled to Gorges, Mount Mitchell, Crowders Mountain, Hanging Rock, Jordan Lake, William B. Umstead, Jockey’s Ridge, Cliffs of the Neuse, and Carolina Beach state parks. Along the way, they encountered the reptiles, mammals and insects that call these parks home, and they introduced them to children and families interested in become citizen scientists through ecoEXPLORE.

Developed by the Arboretum, ecoEXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education) is an incentive-based citizen science program for children in grades K-8. This innovative pilot program combines science exploration with kid-friendly technology to foster a fun learning environment for children, while encouraging them to explore the outdoors and participate in citizen science.

Just what is citizen science? It’s a grassroots movement that encourages volunteers of any age to collect and submit scientific information to real-life scientists. That information assists them in their research and data analysis. By becoming citizen scientists, participants help professional scientists understand changes in the environment and see how these changes impact plants, animals and other natural resources.

For the children who participate in the ecoEXPLORE program, there is an added benefit. They learn foundational skills integral to the scientific method, as they observe, record, ask questions and gather information. These skills are important because they support the State’s STEM curriculum, a hands-on integrated approach to teaching science, technology, engineering and math, the very skills needed to keep the state’s workforce competitive in the 21st century.

You could say that ecoEXPLORE is an investment in North Carolina’s future, which is why the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation provided The North Carolina Arboretum Society with a generous grant to take ecoEXPLORE state-wide. Joining them in this effort are the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Duke Energy Foundation and Buncombe County Recreation Services.

To learn more about the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program and how you can get involved, please click here: