School wildlife gardens win Envirogorge award

White Salmon — Whitson Elementary ’s Schoolyard Habitat program received Envirogorge’s Nature Space Award last Thursday.

The school in White Salmon earned accolades for its wildlife program, which is coordinated in partnership with Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery (NFH), and Yakama Nation Fisheries (YNF). The Nature Space Award is a monthly prize for people or businesses making a small-scale positive change to the natural areas of the Gorge.

The program reinforces the school’s natural science curriculum, with gardens for all grade levels K-3. Kindergarteners maintain a worm-composting bin, fed with lunch scraps. The compost is used in the first grade veggie garden that emphasizes their seed science curriculum. Second graders use the native pollinator garden to get up close and personal with bugs during their insect unit. Third grade students learn from Yakama Native Fisheries about culturally important plants for the native tribes, working hands on at an ethnobotany garden.

The gardens don’t require any watering. This makes students more aware of water usage, especially this year when the snow pack fell to record lows.

It has been an educational experience for many to see native planting instead of more traditional manicured areas. This is all part of the plan, according to Burkhart. “Part of my hope is that we change people’s concept of landscape aesthetics,” said Burkhart. “What some people call messy we call diversity.”

Principal Todd McCauley is a strong supporter of the endeavor. “I love it. I see tremendous value in the educational link it creates from what the students are learning to the real world,” said McCauley.

The PTO and FWS provided much of the initial funding, but they rely on volunteered time from partners and other groups to maintain the gardens. If you are interested in helping with the Schoolyard Habitat project, call Cheri Anderson 509-493-2934 or email her at

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