Keeping Your Community Engaged During COVID: Ideas for Conservation Commissions

Conservation Commissions have a strong interest in engaging community members through fun, educational activities. Getting folks outside and engaged helps build support for the work of the Conservation Commission. Many towns accustomed to hosting public walks, indoor talks, volunteer workdays, and other activities, have cut down on their outreach to help keep people safe during COVID. We’d like to share some ideas for how Conservation Commissions can still continue to engage the public safely during COVID (and in winter no less)!
 

Make it Easy to Get Outside Locally
Getting outside has been very important for physical and mental health during COVID, and it has been especially important for folks to find places to recreate outdoors close to home. Make sure the public information available about your town-owned lands is accurate, up-to-date, and easy to find. Consider posting your town-owned trails to Trail Finder, which only posts trails data with permission from the landowner/trail manager.

 

Volunteering
While it may not be safe/easy to hold large volunteer workdays at the moment, there are ways to encourage volunteerism on town-owned lands safely. Encourage folks to bring gloves and a bag along with them on hikes to pick up any trash found along trails. This can be an open-ended invitation or could be focused on a specific time period (for example the week of Earth Day, or establish your town’s own “spring cleaning” weekend). You can even encourage folks to weigh what they’ve collected (or count number of bags, etc.) and report it to the Conservation Commission so you can report the collective impact of their efforts.

 

Provide Self-Guided Options for a Local Hike
Do you have a local expert in your town who is well-versed in tree or plant ID, or maybe someone with a passion for geology, or history?  Find someone in your community to help you set up a self-guided educational walk along a local trail. You don’t need to create anything fancy – even laminated paper will last for some time outdoors. Choose an easy and relatively short trail, and post your signs along the path showing folks how to identify different tree species, or sharing some interesting geological or historical facts about a given area. Be sure to promote this hike publicly in local and/or social media. Another option would be to create a scavenger hunt on a given property to encourage folks to get out and explore.
 

Host a Photo Challenge
Create a photo challenge, contest, or scavenger hunt to encourage folks to get out on town lands and take photos of nature. Provide some interesting categories/prompts to help provide some inspiration and have folks submit photos back to you. You can use these photos to help inspire others to get outdoors. We recently heard from one town that creates an annual calendar of nature photos taken around town sold to benefit their Conservation Commission.

 

Encourage Citizen/Community Science
There are many existing community science programs that you can promote to encourage people to get outside, and collect meaningful data in your community. Some existing programs that may be of interest and are relevant at this time of year include the NH Winter Turkey Flock Survey, and the Backyard Winter Bird Survey. You can find an extensive list of existing community science experiences on the Nature Groupie website.

By Emma Tutein, Natural Resources Conservation Field Specialist, UNH Cooperative Extension
Winter 2021 Taking Action for Wildlife Newsletter