2015-04_975The Wetlands Institute (TWI), Wetland Link International (based in the UK) and Wetlands International Russia (based in Moscow) teamed up to generate a beneficial international dialogue between wetland centers in the US and Russia. This project, Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program: Linking People and Wetlands is funded by a grant from the US State Department and will share best practices in environmental education and support the development of effective outreach and education activities among centers in both countries.

Program need stems from a desire to directly link peers to foster great cultural understanding, while exploring the different historical context and approaches to environmental education utilized in each country. The US has a long history of making natural areas accessible to people and embedding environmental education and outreach in to visitor programs. US wetland education centers are widespread and utilize a variety of innovative approaches to teaching in and about wetlands. In Russia, for most of their recent history, natural areas have been strictly protected and largely off limits to the public. In recent years, this has changed and new wetland education visitor centers are being opened and new programming is being developed encouraging outdoor and environmental education. The exchange program is designed to have paired centers work together and learn from each other.

The Wetlands Institute is partnering with the Smolensk Lakeland National Park, located in Russia, near the Belarus border about 7 hours west of Moscow. In April, Wetlands Institute Executive Director, Lenore Tedesco, and Director of Education, Brooke Knapick spent 10 days in Russia visiting project partners from Smolensk Lakeland National Park. The park has a newly opened visitor center and shares some interesting similarities with TWI. The park is located in an area with numerous beautiful lakes and has a visitorship that is heavily seasonal. The park is vast and has a strong focus on interpretive signage and self-guided educational programs. Their mission also includes preservation and education about cultural resources in addition to natural resources. While in Russia, Wetlands Institute staff visited many areas of the park, visited the local middle school, participated in a regional overnight environmental education and service project, and worked with park naturalists, foresters, and research scientists to get a greater understanding of the educational initiatives being offered by the Park. Full immersion into the Park’s programs allowed us to explore commonalities between the two centers and share ideas for new programs and initiatives, exhibits and signage and community involvement. Extending our education programs to an international level such as this is an important next step in the Institute’s development.

2015-04_397This exchange visit was the first in a series of wetland center exchange visits planned for this project. The six wetland centers participating in the program are divided equally between the US and Russia and include a diverse array of centers from different geographic regions and with different areas of expertise and educational focus. Together we are exploring approaches for using social media in environmental education, sharing data and program materials, and will produce a bilingual manual for wetland centers in both countries. The Khakassky State Nature Reserve, located in the Steppe zone of Khakassia, is working with the Driftless Area Wetlands Center in Marquette, Iowa. The Baltic Fund for Nature, located in St. Petersburg is an NGO focused on environmental education in the Baltic Sea basin. The Baltic Fund for Nature is paired with John Bunker Sands Wetland Center located in Seagoville, Texas. The first phase of the exchanges is now complete with each of the US teams visiting Russia. The Russian teams will visit their partners in the US in October. The teams will all come to The Wetlands Institute in mid-October for an international conference on wetland education. The conference will include an evening program that will be open to the public.

To learn more about the program, or follow the travels of the participating wetland centers, please visit https://wetlandsinstitute.org/education/russia-usa-wetland-center-exchange-program. You can also find us on Facebook.