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Enraptured by raptors: West Valley Outdoor Learning Center

Posted on June 14, 2017 at 6:00 am

Guest Blog By Kim Brinkmann

“I had no idea this place even existed!”

This phrase is commonly expressed by first-time guests of the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center. The Outdoor Learning Center is tucked back in a corner on the grounds of Pasadena Park Elementary School, hidden among the towering cottonwoods, cedars, and aspens. It is easily missed by the drivers navigating the curves of East Upriver Drive. Once discovered, visitors realize what a hidden treasure it is.

With a shoestring budget, a hardworking staff, and a dedicated group of volunteers, the Outdoor Learning Center has managed to reach far and wide with its environmental education efforts.

My first experience with the Outdoor Learning Center was when I took my two kids to an Open House event. Walking in the door for the first time is a little overwhelming. The entire building is filled with mounts, skulls, skins, cases of critters, and feathery friends. What caught my eye that day was the woman standing with a red-tailed hawk perched her arm. I held my breath and approached, wondering if maybe it was a fake. But, no! The hawk was real and alive, and she was beautiful. The Outdoor Learning Center had officially captured my heart.

For years I had worked less than half a mile down the road from this oasis and never even knew it existed!

Not long after my first visit, the Outdoor Learning Center put out a call for volunteers. I responded, wondering if I would make the cut. I did and was trained to be a raptor docent. One of my responsibilities is doing “chores” once a week for the eight birds that call the Outdoor Learning Center home. This entails cleaning up their space, providing them with fresh water, getting them some time outside, weighing them, and feeding them. Getting to know the birds and learning their individual quirks has been a hoot—mostly. I am not going to name names, but some of our birds are not quite as easy going as others.

All of the birds have injuries that prevent them from being able to survive in the wild.

Additionally, as a raptor docent, I help with education outreach efforts. Aside from the frequent Open Houses, the Outdoor Learning Center hosts classes and events in two classrooms and on the surrounding, park-like grounds. Staff and volunteers also conduct school field-trips and participate in many community events.

In my years as a docent, I have enjoyed a wide variety of educational experiences. I have visited kindergarten classes, where we talked about omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores. I have hiked with 5th graders, where we spied kestrels and hawks soaring and hunting the shrub steppe habitat of Saltese Uplands. While doing outreach at the Manito Plant Sale, I have watched the shocked looks on people’s faces when they realize I am holding a real, live owl. There is something magical about a living creature that brings out the natural curiosity in everyone. I am certain future generations of local ecologists and biologists will trace their start back to the first time they walked through the doors of the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center.

The Outdoor Learning Center is home to more than just birds. Other residents include snakes, tortoises, frogs, and more.

I hope you will enjoy learning more about the critters during the shows at the Library District on June 26–30. Also be sure to visit the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center at its Open House on July 19, 10am–2pm. It is a hidden treasure, which I am glad to know exists.


Animals & Their Habitats
Meet the animals of the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center, and discover the many shapes and sizes of what they call “home.”

Monday, June 26, 10:30–11:30am

Monday, June 26, 2–3pm & 7–8pm

Tuesday, June 27, 11am–12pm

Tuesday, June 27, 2–3pm** & 7–8pm

Wednesday, June 28, 10:30–11:30am

Wednesday, June 28, 2–3pm

Thursday, June 29, 11am–12pm

Thursday, June 29, 2–3pm

Friday, June 30, 11am–12pm

Friday, June 30, 2–3pm

**A sign language interpreter will be at this program.

Kim Brinkmann is a proud to be dubbed a “bird nerd” by the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center. When she is not volunteering at the Outdoor Learning Center, she can be found either working on graphic design projects in her home office or pulling up the endless supply of weeds in her backyard.

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