By Chelsea Mervenne
Last Sunday, Corazón Latino, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, organized a “Reto Descubre el Bosque” (“Discover-the-Forest Challenge”) event at Woodworth Park in Cheverly, MD. This was our opportunity to organize a multi-cultural event around the City Nature Challenge, an international competition in which cities compete to document the highest number of plant and animal species observations, capture biodiversity, and engage the most people in becoming citizen scientists during this 3-day challenge. In the spirit of competition, Corazón Latino announced that we would issue one raffle ticket to each participant for every 10 observations submitted on the iNaturalist app. That being said, we were admittedly a bit nervous - we didn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout because as any host knows, RSVPs are fleeting.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny day with a gentle breeze. After everyone had arrived, all participants downloaded the iNaturalist app on their phones, listened to instructions from US Forest Service biology and conservation educators about the use of iNaturalist and the impact of Citizen Science. Everyone shook off any stress with a ice-breaker BioBlitz dance, featuring America’s Conservation Icon Woodsy the Owl, before grabbing a snack and heading for the forest trail in teams. In total, 50 people came to discover the forest with us, which was pretty incredible. One mom traveled all the way from Delaware so her son could participate!
The event was family-oriented (I’m talking parents, children, aunts, uncles) so we had people of all ages taking pictures and identifying local and non-native plants and animals, with the top competitor being a very ambitious 13-year-old, who took 101 pictures. Not everyone was in it for the competition, however. Some people, namely a spunky toddler named DJ, was super excited about joining Woodsy on the discovery trail. If you haven’t had a chance to watch a toddler chase a giant owl mascot through the woods, I highly recommend it - It’s hilarious. Others were intent on getting their hands dirty, collecting insects, and inspecting fallen trees for signs of life. Our friends at the U.S. Forest Service were able to answer questions that arose as people worked their way through the forest (“Why does the trunk of this Maple tree have so many more knobs than the other one?”) which made learning about the environment happen more organically than it might in a classroom setting.
Towards the end of the day everyone met back at the pavilion for pupusas, a Salvadorean dish that is essentially a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling like cheese or meat. Everyone sat at picnic tables and chatted in mixtures of Spanish and English while enjoying authentic “comida Latina.” Once everyone had finished, we announced the raffle winners, handed out prizes, and our friends at the Forest Service led everyone in Zumba and Salsa dancing (little known fact: Woodsy the Owl is a great dancer).
I don’t know exactly how many species our group identified, but one thing is for sure, the “Reto Descubre el Bosque" event was a huge success. Thanks to iNaturalist and our dynamic partners, everyone in attendance was able to become a Citizen Scientist, learn more about local wildlife, and spend a Sunday afternoon among family and new friends. We’re looking forward to our next adventure discovering the forest!