CROFT: Outdoor adventures are calling

Spring is the perfect time for viewing the landscape up close as nature awakens from winter’s respite. And the great outdoors awaits. Got a backpack? Hiking boots? Camera or binoculars? Three nonprofit organizations specialize in offering excursions with the outdoor enthusiast in mind.

The summer field research course through NatureBridge introduces teens to Yosemite National Park’s backcountry. Students will gain a greater understanding of the Sierra Nevada ecosystem while developing critical-thinking skills. Groups are led by professional educators. Through hands-on science, stewardship education and team building, participants will learn to think like a scientist while producing their own field-based research projects.

A grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation makes it possible for NatureBridge to offer scholarships to qualifying high school students in the Central Valley. Students must be a resident of Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Stanislaus, Tulare or San Joaquin county. Full and partial scholarships are available, depending on financial need.

Three two-week sessions will be held between June 29 and Aug. 9. For more information, visit

NatureBridge is the largest residential education partner of the National Park Service. More than 30,000 students each year benefit from programs offered in six of America’s national parks.

• Outdoor Adventures with Yosemite Conservancy offers experiences varying from landscape painting or photography to hiking and birding, from moderate day hikes to climbing Half Dome. Over 50 adventures are scheduled for this year. A sampling of what’s offered is listed below:

• Bird authority and Yosemite naturalist Michael Ross leads outings for spotting resident and migratory birds in Yosemite Valley and the high country.

• Hiking guidebook author Suzanne Swedo will lead a three-day backpacking trek in the Tuolumne Meadows area. Other hikes include May Lake, Clouds Rest, Young Lakes, the Lyell Glacier and Mount Hoffmann.

• Julia Parker, Lucy Parker and Ursula Jones are three generations of the Miwok-Paiute Native Americans skilled in traditional basket weaving. Julia Parker has been employed by the National Park Service for more than 50 years and is regarded as a national treasure. The three women teach a basketry course that includes camping.

• Seasonal photography adventures include daytime photo opportunities as well as nighttime. Photograph the elusive moonbow in one of the sessions offered.

• Choose between two family camping jamborees in July. Bring a tent and your kids, and let Yosemite Conservancy guides do the cooking and cleaning up.

• Later this year, enjoy sketching the Wawona Hotel in watercolors with the backdrop of autumn foliage. Or join other artists for plein air painting while improving your brushstrokes. This instructional excursion is led by a profession artist in Yosemite’s breathtaking open air studio.

Yosemite Conservancy helps preserve and protect the park by protecting wildlife and their habitats and maintaining trails. For additional information, call (800) 469-7275 or visit

Birding and wildflower hikes in the central Sierra Nevada range are on the calendar with the Sierra Foothills Conservancy:

• Spend Earth Day at Striped Rock, hike Clark’s Valley or Bean Creek Meadow, view wildflowers on Black Mountain, or learn about native plants and their traditional uses. Discover the natural history of Trabucco Ranch in Mariposa County or do yoga under the oaks.

• For advanced hikers, the Tivy Mountain Summit hike is offered twice this season. Covering six strenuous miles round-trip and a 2,000-feet elevation gain will take about seven hours. But for those in shape, the view is amazing.

• SFC currently protects 25,000 acres of foothills lands, including wildlife and native flora. In maintaining open spaces SFC also promotes scientific study of foothill ecosystems. Protecting Central California’s natural resources between Yosemite and Kings Canyon national parks ensures the same opportunities for enjoyment by future generations.

For more information visit, or call the Prather office at (559) 855-3473 or the Mariposa office at (209) 742-5556.

It’s too beautiful to stay indoors. Take a drive to the foothills and stay awhile.