Accokeek, MD—The federal government shutdown and park closures have resulted in the cancellation or alteration of several local environmental education programs, impacting hundreds of students who normally visit Piscataway National Park that spans 5,000 acres across southern Prince George’s and Charles County. Through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, two local non-profit organizations use the park’s land to further their missions of providing outdoor educational experiences to students and the public about history, agriculture, and the environment. The Accokeek Foundation’s entire campus, used for history education and agricultural training, is located within the boundaries of Piscataway Park, while the Alice Ferguson Foundation depends on access to the Potomac River through the park for its Hard Bargain Farm Education Center environmental education programs as well as access to other area national parks for its Bridging the Watershed program.
The Accokeek Foundation leads hands-on school tours at the National Colonial Farm and Piscataway Park, reaching over 3,000 youth annually. October is the beginning of the fall tour season, and many of the scheduled tours have been cancelled due to the shutdown, disappointing teachers and students who look forward to these outdoor experiences each year. Jeannette Wheeler, a Prince George’s County 6th grade educator whose tour is scheduled for October 17, is hoping that “the shutdown ends soon so [she] can take students on their field trip.” Another teacher whose tour was cancelled due to the shutdown’s closure of national parks commented, “We will readily reschedule if we cannot come next week, as we always love our trips to Accokeek and look forward to [the park’s] reopening.” The education program has already been impacted by funding cuts to county public schools, limiting availability of funds for transportation. “The Accokeek Foundation has been seeking creative ways to help schools continue to bring students for farm tours,” said Brittany Barnes, Development Manager for the Accokeek Foundation who has worked with the National Park Foundation to provide transportation grants last year to Prince George’s County schools. “The government shutdown greatly hinders our ability to be able to deliver grant commitments for education without access to the parks,” Barnes stated.
The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center uses experiential learning techniques to teach environmental studies to nearly 5,000 elementary school students annually on their 330-acre working farm on the banks of the Potomac River. More than a third of the students served by the program are at-risk youth from the region’s underserved communities in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. “For most of our students this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a working farm and to have such a personal experience with nature,” said Lori Arguelles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation. The Foundation donated the land to Piscataway National Park when the park was created in the 1960s and a large portion of students’ field studies are spent in the park along the Potomac River shoreline. However, due to the closure of the National Parks, the 91 students who visited this past week and the 142 students expected next week are missing out on one of the pinnacle experiences of their time at HBF. “Though we have made every effort to preserve the educational value of these programs, the inability to utilize these lands inhibits our ability to provide the outdoor field study experience teachers and students have planned for,” explained Arguelles.
In addition to Hard Bargain Farm, Bridging the Watershed (BTW) is an experience-based, science-driven environmental education program of the Alice Ferguson Foundation conducted in partnership with the National Park Service and regional school systems to promote student academic achievement, personal connections with the natural world, lifelong civic engagement, and environmental stewardship. BTW is now greatly affected by the inability to foster student science in national parks.
Thus far nearly 365 high school and middle school students in area school systems will be unable to conduct educational science investigations in national parks. Teachers have spent many hours in instructional preparation and, in some circumstances, securing significant funds, usually around $600 for student transportation to a national park. “We hope this congressional situation is resolved quickly, so students can learn and experience in what historian Wallace Stegner called ‘America’s Best Idea’,” said Keith Roumfort, Bridging the Watershed Program Manager.
The Accokeek Foundation also operates a certified organic farm that was created as a model to teach sustainable agriculture to aspiring farmers. The Ecosystem Farm at Piscataway Park has been the center of a beginning farmer training program for over 20 years. “Because the land we use for education is federal property, we are unable to carry out any of those public services that we typically provide for the community such as the On Farm Market and tours of the Ecosystem Farm,” stated Lisa Hayes, President and CEO of the Accokeek Foundation. While public access to the visitor facilities for recreation and programming has been closed, essential personnel are able to report to the site and take care of the park’s resources including the livestock, farm crops, and site and building security. “Essential personnel like our farmers continue to work daily on site to ensure that the animals and crops are cared for,” Hayes continued, “and we have made arrangements so our Community Supported Agriculture program customers can continue to receive their produce at an off-site venue in the community. We are grateful to the community for its support during this challenging time, but eager to get back to business as usual once the parks reopen.”
About the Accokeek Foundation: The Accokeek Foundation is a non-profit, educational organization whose mission is to connect people to history, agriculture, and nature through innovative educational programs and engaging visitor experiences. Using Piscataway Park as its outdoor “campus” the Foundation’s operations include the National Colonial Farm (living heritage exhibit), the Ecosystem Farm (demonstrations in sustainable agriculture), and preservation of heritage livestock and heirloom seeds. Visit www.accokeekfoundation.org to learn more.
About the Alice Ferguson Foundation: The Alice Ferguson Foundation connects people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship and advocacy. Learn more at www.fergusonfoundation.org.
Accokeek Foundation: Anjela Barnes
firstname.lastname@example.org 301-283-2113 ext 34
Alice Ferguson Foundation: Alena Rosen