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Ridgewood students tour Shangri La to celebrate Earth Day

There is a story behind every brick and board that comprise the walkways at Shangri La Botanical Gardens. Each is made up of recycled items and have served purposes other than their present day settings in trails.

Wednesday, students from area schools trotted among the “greenest place in Texas” for an Earth Day field trip. Ridgewood Elementary First Graders toured the botanical gardens, peered through the bird blinds and took an educational walk through several of the gardens historical greenhouses.

“It was very beautiful,” Ridgewood Elementary Principal Julie Gauthier said, following the trip.

“I’ve heard a lot about the place and to actually see it was very neat for the kids and I. We wanted our students to see how beautiful nature, and environment, can all be and how important it is to take care of both of them — especially on Earth Day.”

“It really means more to us to see something that impressive so close to home.”

Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is the first project in Texas and the 50th project in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum certification for LEED®-NC, which verifies the design and construction of Shangri La reached the highest green building and performance measures.

Tuesday, Shangri La received yet another acknowledgment for its environmental achievements, being selected by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) as one of the world’s top 10 projects exhibiting sustainable architecture and green design solutions.

“Our goal from the very beginning of this project was to be as earth friendly as possible,” said Michael Hoke, Managing Director of Shangri La. “Through the vision and support of the Stark Foundation and the innovation of our architects and many others, we have achieved our goal. Now it is up to us to use the wonderful resources of Shangri La to meet our mission of Mentoring Children of All Ages to Be Kind to Their World.”

Gauthier said she was impressed at how well organized and informative the volunteers at Shangri La were throughout her school’s field trip. Even before the students stepped off the buses, Ridgewood Elementary teachers had prepared their students for what they were to expect by utilizing Shangri La’s online teaching resources.

“They knew what type of flowers the gardens had for them to see, which type of insects inhabited the park,” Gauthier said. “They were given a very thorough introduction to Shangri La before we even got there.”

“Of course, for Earth Day, our teachers all over the campus always cover environmental topics with the students.”

Shangri La Volunteer Gail Batchelor, who served as the Ridgewood Elementary tour guide, says introducing environmentally-friendly steps to children at a young age is vital to their understanding of their importance.

“Kids need to start young to understand about reducing waste, reusing and recycling,” Batchelor said. “Things like turning off the water and not wasting water when they’re brushing their teeth — anything we can do to keep our environment from being used up before we’re used up.”

“If they can learn little by little about recycling — if we can make a difference and make them curious about it all then we’ve done our job.”

Gauthier called the school’s Earth Day trip a success, saying the ease and uniqueness of the gardens are already having her plan for next year’s Earth Day trip.

“The students all loved it,” Gauthier said. “It was a little hot, but they were all very impressed with the trails and the flowers and all the birds they saw. We’re definitely scheduling another trip.”

Batchelor, who spent much of Wednesday giving tours to other school’s beside Ridgewood, said its important to emphasize the importance of being eco-friendly, but that it shouldn’t be a one-day way of thinking.

“I think it’s important any day because I think every day should be earth day,” Batchelor said.

mtobias@panews.com