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Sunday, May 31, 2009

White Sands National Monument offers outdoor adventure, wildlife classes


Summer in the sand
White Sands National Monument offers outdoor adventure, wildlife classes
Alamogordo Daily News
By Sue Major Holmes, Associated Press Writer

ALAMOGORDO - White Sands National Monument's superintendent knows what he wants from the park's inaugural summer institute that all five classes fill up and are so successful the monument will be able to offer more next year.
Kevin Schneider wanted the new White Sands Institute to offer something similar to the classes he took for pleasure when he worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana several years ago.
"Ultimately, it is a wonderful opportunity for our visitors," he said.
The southern New Mexico national monument, proclaimed by President Herbert Hoover on Jan. 18, 1933, preserves a large part of the wavelike dunes of gypsum that cover 275 square miles of desert the world's largest gypsum dune field.
White Sands Institute is offering courses on moths and lizards adapted to that unique environment, a view of the area's history, and painting and photographing the dunes. The classes will mix classroom sessions with excursions to the monument.
"There's isn't really anything like this at other parks in New Mexico," Schneider said.
Putting together a class schedule takes the right combination of factors, including people who can run a program, Schneider said.
"As a whole, the Park Service is trying to run in a hundred different directions all on the same day," he said. "You have to have energized people willing to go to bat for you," which he found with White Sands' partner in the classes, New Mexico State University-Alamogordo, and its

coordinator of community services, Joan Griggs.
The National Park Service nationwide offers ranger-led programs, interpretive programs, children's day camps, tours and living history programs such as the planned June 12-14 Civil War Weekend at Pecos National Historical Park in north-central New Mexico.
But field schools and institutes are different, providing in-depth education for small groups in natural and historic settings. Instructors are scientists, authors, historians or artists; courses range from one-day seminars to multiday backcountry experiences; some earn academic credit but many, like New Mexico's, are simply for personal enjoyment.
White Sands Institute's classes center on the national monument, but are offered under the auspices of NMSU-A. That's an unusual arrangement most such courses, workshops or field seminars at national parks are done through nonprofit associations that promote a particular national park.
Schneider turned to the branch college because it already runs a community education program and has a structure for administrative duties like registering people.
"It made it a natural fit for us," he said. "It just makes the whole thing go smoother."
Programs put on by the National Park Service itself, with its limited budget, are general and for larger audiences, said Jeff Brown, director of education for the Yellowstone Association, which reaches 5,000 to 6,000 people a year with courses at Yellowstone.
Such niche programs for smaller groups, using parks as their classrooms, provide in-depth experiences, he said.
"For a visitor, what you get out of them is the connection you can build between people and parks when you have a day or several days to do it," Brown said. "There's a difference in spending three minutes talking to a ranger at an information desk and three days out in the field with one of these experts. What we're really hoping is it inspires people to preserve these places."
And, he said, it doesn't cost the government a penny.
White Sands Institute kicks off in June and July with short courses taught by researchers who have done work at the dunes. Two classes for three days each in August will be taught by a photographer and an artist who have done some of their work at the monument.
"We knew what would be popular photography, painting, the unique species in White Sands," said Schneider, who has been monument superintendent for about a year.
Three species of lizards, a pocket mouse and numerous insects have evolved to survive in the sands. Such unique species are the subject of two courses: "Evolution in Black and White: White Lizards of the White Sands" on June 5 and "New Discoveries: The Moths of White Sands" on June 13-14.
They will be followed by a wider view of the area where the dunes lie. "Mammoths to Missiles: the Human History of the Tularosa Basin" July 16-17 will include field trips to rarely visited sites within White Sands.
Photographer Jim Spencer and watercolor artist Dan Stouffer will offer three-day field seminars: Spencer's "By the Dune's Early Light," Aug. 5-7, which includes early morning and evening photographing excursions, and Stouffer's "White Sands Water Colors" Aug. 19-21.
The short courses, each costing $55, are limited to 25 students. The photography and painting workshops are $175 each. The photo class is limited to 20 people; the painting to 12. The class on moths will enroll fifth graders up to adults; the others are for 10th grade and up.
"We hope to expand. We have lots of ideas," said Griggs of NMSU-A. "I easily can anticipate a writing workshop, yoga at the White Sands. There's no particular limit to what can be done."


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