Across the United States, young people are being told to get outdoors, get to know wildlife, enjoy the world of plants and animals and express their inspiration via art, writing, photography or video in the annual Get to Know National Youth Creativity Contest.
In the East Bay, 32 young people ages 6 to 18 have done just that via the local contest sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District. Their work is now on exhibit, weekends through March 2, at the Environmental Education Center in Tilden Regional Park.
The contest requires that entries focus on nature, rather than farm animals or pets, but locations were not limited to the regional parks. "It just had to be outside, getting to know your wild neighbors and seeing what's out there," said James Wilson, Tilden Park naturalist. "It's kids enjoying everything that has to do with nature so it's really cool."
The East Bay Regional Park District partnered with the Get to Know Society in Canada, which has been inspiring connections between children and nature for more than 10 years.
Sharing the belief that interactions with wildlife can help preserve wild spaces for future generations, the society chose the motto "Connect, Create, Celebrate."
The park district publicized the contest from April through October, 2013. "We promoted it through publications, visitor centers, website, newsletter and outreach to libraries, schools and art centers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties," said Isa Polt-Jones, EBRPD public information representative.
Youths from all corners of the East Bay entered and all are being shown at the exhibit.
The youngest entrant, Dasha Oxley, 5, from Oakland, drew carefree butterflies from UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden.
Varya Karpelevitch, 6, of Fremont, is exhibiting a lovely watercolor of playful ducks she saw at Lake Elizabeth Park in Fremont.
At the top end of the age span are Fremont's Connor Pitta, 18, with his poem "Baby Quail," and 17-year-old Connor Rickey, who shot a video titled "Our Backyard."
Rickey's 10-minute compilation of shots within 10 minutes of his Danville home demonstrates how fortunate he is to live so close to nature.
Some entrants were quite prolific. Oakley resident Berenice Ledesma, 14, provided 60 nature photos she took in her garden and neighborhood, all focusing on small details of plants and insects. Five are being shown, including one of a bright-red ladybug perched at the end of a blade of grass.
Fremont resident Brenda Miao, 16, submitted 36 nature photos, of which three are being shown, including a close-up of a skipper butterfly.
Many entries represent the prevalence of nature in backyards, especially the wild turkeys that figure prominently in pieces submitted by Claire Sha, Lauren Bartlett and Anvita Sharma. Sharma, an 11-year-old Danville resident, also submitted a short description of what she learned about turkeys and deer as she attempted to take their photos.
While many entries represent East Bay locations, 14-year-old Amber Lee of Fremont submitted a photo of subalpine daisies she took at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state.
And Maya Rutledge, 12, of Alameda, shows that nature can be found in what wildlife leaves behind with her photo of bird prints in the mud at Bay Farm Island.
Visitors will have a chance to meet some of the young creators at a reception set at the Environmental Education Center on Feb. 16. It will also be an open day for young people to come and make their own art. Watercolors and sketching lessons will be provided, and there might be some live animal sketching.
When visitors come to the regional parks, naturalists like Wilson help them to interpret what they are seeing. "What I think is special about this art contest is that kids are being cameras, taking pictures in their memories, then coming home and being the interpreters of their memories to create art," he said. "It demonstrates that you can find nature just about anywhere. The art speaks for itself."
The Get to Know Contest entries are on exhibit at the Tilden Regional Park Environmental Education Center, 600 Canon Drive in the Berkeley hills weekends only from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through March 2.
A reception with the artists is 2 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 16.