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Hunting for nature

In a few more weeks, residents will be able to partake in scavenger hunts at more than a dozen parks in Orange County through a nature program started by a group of students at Sage Hill School. They have called it Nature Scene Investigators — a play on the name of the popular television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

On Monday, State Farm Insurance representatives visited the 450-plus-student high school on Newport Coast Drive and handed a $51,000 check to the five students, who were instrumental in getting the scavenger hunts off the ground in some of the parks.

The money will go into developing a website for the scavenger hunts, printing thousands of informational pamphlets to be picked up at the parks, and to help pay the salaries of the mentors who’ve helped make the program a reality.

“Everything is coming together. It’s great to see that what we started is finally being realized,” said Alex Koeberle, 17, who spent hours over the summer writing a grant, which ultimately persuaded State Farm to invest in Nature Scene Investigators.

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The students — Koeberle, John Choi, Abby Means, Jenna Wade, Lillian Bush and Chris Irwin — came up with the idea as part of their school’s community service program, in which students at Sage Hill take one Wednesday off each month to serve their community.

Environmentalists at heart and nature enthusiasts at the core, the students started working with Orange County’s Inside the Outdoors, an environmental program that is part of the Orange County Department of Education.

Soon, mentors at Inside the Outdoors were doling out advice to the five students. They told them about a special program out of Lincoln, Neb., where the state holds a wildlife safari and tourists can actually participate by driving around hundreds of acres of state preserved land, learning about the animals indigenous to the Great Plains.

The students at Sage Hill went a few steps further, creating “special missions” and scavenger hunts in which park-goers look for clues and learn a bit about the history of the park they are exploring.

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“The whole idea is to get more families outdoors so that they can enjoy nature,” said Pam Johnson, administrator of Inside the Outdoors. “And everybody knows that Orange County has so much nature to offer.”

The launch is scheduled for March 13 at the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. Ultimately, anybody who decides to participate in the scavenger hunt will be given a certain code, which can then be redeemed for a prize from the Department of Education.

The parks participating in the scavenger hunt are accessible by local transportation. Students made sure of that, knowing what it’s like to not always have access to a car.

The parks were Irvine Regional Park, Clark Park in Buena Park, Carbon Canyon in North Orange County, Upper Newport Bay, Aliso Beach, Shipley Nature Center, Mile Square Park, Yorba Regional Park, San Joaquin Wildlife Safari and the old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Steve Barrett, director of service learning for Sage Hill, said he was proud of the students who made this all possible.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “All of this has to be a student-led effort. That’s the philosophy behind community service. It has to be student-driven, and that’s exactly what these five have done.”

In all, State Farm received 1,100 grant applications statewide, out of which 80 were selected as finalists. Of those finalists, only six received money. The others were three high schools in Los Angeles, one in the Bay Area and one in San Diego.



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