Encountering a three-foot long earthworm isn't science fiction but one of many memorable experiences for students studying at RLG!

Conservation: One "Experience" at a Time

By Tim Krynak

President, Las Gralarias Foundation

Imagine taking a group of college students to the misty forests of Reserva Las Gralarias only to hear one of them shout, “I caught it! I caught it!” That was a heart-stopping moment for me last spring as I sat with a group of students on the back porch of the guest house at RLG watching the feeders.Student holding giant earthworm

Quickly I went through some of the possibilities—insect, snake, frog—but “it” quickly revealed itself when a six-foot-tall, keen new birder came running around the corner, slipping on the wet ground but still with his prize firmly in his grasp: a giant, three-foot long earthworm! I doubt any of the students noticed my relief because they were all too busy taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to photograph themselves holding this amazing creature.

Opportunities like this were what we had hoped for when a group of us first considered the idea of an on-site biology class at Reserva Las Gralarias in partnership with Grand Valley State University. You may have read other accounts of this trip in our newsletters, but I would like to offer some history on how the trip came about and why I believe in its importance.

Several years ago, my brother, Ed Krynak, was an MS biology student at GVSU and had Dr. Eric Snyder as his advisor. Ed would talk to me about what was happening in Ecuador and at Reserva Las Gralarias and share photos. It wasn’t long before Ed introduced me to Eric to discuss the idea of taking students there, and on a blustery afternoon the three of us walked over to the College of International Studies and pitched the possibility of a new study-abroad program at RLG.

Following this meeting, Eric proposed an exploratory visit that would pave the way for taking students, and the university approved it. Once in Ecuador, Eric and Ed spent hours looking through dissecting scopes at all the new and exciting animals uncovered in the streams at RLG. Within a week, they had crafted a framework for the course. Upon their return, Kathy joined the team, and the four of us—Eric, Jane, Kathy, and myself--then spent the next two years working out the logistics for bringing a student group to RLG, developing a syllabus for the class, and advertising the program.
We all saw the work pay off on a spGroup photograph of GVSU studentsring day in 2014, when eleven GVSU students and Eric, Kathy and I gathered up at the Houston airport to exchange introductions and share in the excitement of being on our way to spend two weeks at RLG. Over the next fourteen days, these students experienced the sights, sounds and smells of the nature and culture that make the small country of Ecuador a wonderful place.

It was a true joy for us to observe and guide this experience, and we smiled and laughed with the students as we all slid down the mountain, filled our boots full of water in the stream, sweatily climbed back up the mountain, worked on specific research projects, and enjoyed everyone’s company. Students viewed hummingbirds and condors and other birds they had never seen before, encouGVSU students at Rio Santa Rosantered insects, frogs, and caecilians they didn’t know existed, and, yes, even caught a giant earthworm.

My first visit to Ecuador unexpectedly changed my life by connecting Ohio to Ecuador. I like to believe it changed the young adults on the trip as well. Though each student had an individual experience, none left Ecuador without learning more about biology, about conservation, about people who live in a different part of the world with a culture and history all their own. Nor did they leave without thinking about how they shape their world, and more importantly, how they CAN shape it.

I am fortunate to have met and worked with many people who are passionate about conservation. Like the students on our trip, each has a singular story and individual experiences, yet all have come together to protect what we love.

Match Update: We've Been Feelin' the Love!

by Mary Ann Beauchemin


I’m happy to report our Matching Donation Fund has received $860 in the last month. Since all donations received through Earth Day will be tripled by anonymous donors, this $860 has turned into $2,580. In just two short months, we have received $4,030 from our supporters, resulting in a current total match of $12,090 to our Habitat Acquisition Fund! A big THANK YOU to those who have contributed so far and have taken advantage of the great opportunity to triple your donation.

We have until April 22, 2015, to raise the remaining $15,970 to reach the total goal of $60,000 needed to purchase one more parcel of critical habitat. With only two parcels of land left to protect the Santa Rosa River watershed, purchasing at least one this year is imperative.

Can you consider making an extra effort to help us purchase this important parcel of land? Every single contribution matters, and a quick click to Paypal or JustGive is all it takes to make one.

Please also consider spreading the word about preserving this amazing area of cloud forest by forwarding this Chirp to anyone you think might be interested in helping out. Share us on your Facebook page and be sure to let folks know that any donation will be tripled AND 100% of any donation goes to buying critical cloud forest habitat.

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Photo Credits: GVSU student study abroad program participants courtesy of Timothy Krynak; Fawn-breasted Brilliant Hummingbird courtesy of Greg Lambeth