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Alex Goodlett, Deseret News
Kristen Bonner speaks to Kaysville Elementary students during a field trip to The Nature Conservancy’s Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in Layton on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

LAYTON — Fourth-graders struggled to contain their excitement as they got a hands-on experience with many of the species they learned about during their school year.

The Kaysville Elementary students were one of the last field trip groups recently to tour the marshy wetland shores of the Great Salt Lake before the end of the school year. For the students, it was a chance to enjoy the spring weather. For their teacher, Doralee Cox, the field trip was an opportunity to solidify some of the lessons of the school year.

"We have already tested on it, but all of these kids love being out here," Cox said. "This just kind of reinforces everything we have done."

The Wings and Water Field Trip, a program hosted by The Nature Conservancy, has tailored the lessons of the tour to match up with the fourth-grade curriculum, which focuses on biodiversity and adaptations, and also teaches students about the ecological significance of the wetlands.

Having run for over 10 years, the field trip has hosted more than 15,000 fourth-grade students. The Nature Conservancy offers a free tour and lesson materials for classrooms.

"What we talk about here really fits in well with the fourth-grade curriculum," Andrea Nelson, program manager for the field trip, said. "It's also important that they know that these places exist and that they are full of life."

Nelson said she has noticed more visitors in recent years who have returned to the preserve long after their fourth-grade field trip and remember many of the lessons learned.

Walking along the narrow boardwalk, the Kaysville students spent time spotting the various local and migratory birds and identified the treated areas where efforts have been made to remove phragmites, an invasive species of common reed that has overpowered other plants in the area.

The tour focused on the value of the wetlands as a home for the nearly 300 species of birds — totalling roughly 3 million individual birds — that pass through the shores of the Great Salt Lake before flying as far south as Argentina for the winter.

"As our population of people increases, the places where they live increases, and that sometimes reduces the places where these animals can live, so the Great Salt Lake becomes more and more important as a preserve habitat for them," said Kristen Bonner, one of the tour guides.

While the Kaysville students had been taught the different plant life typically found in the marshes, they quickly learned to actually identify the plants in the wild, often tasting the stems of plants and feeling their texture.

The students also learned how to determine the quality of the water based on the surrounding plant life; saltgrass acts as an indicator of nearby salt water, while hardstem bulrushes are averse to high salinity and indicate areas of fresh water.

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New app tour

The Nature Conservancy launched a new guided audio tour of the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve with the TravelStorys GPS phone application.

Users can download the TravelStorys app and then download the specific tour for the preserve.

Using GPS location services, the app sends audio segments to users based on their location. The tour includes information about the history of the preserve and tells users about the ecology found around the Great Salt Lake.

The Nature Conservancy launched its audio tour during the 2017 Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.

"We get lots of requests for guided tours and there's just not enough of us to come out here every day to do guided tours," Andrea Nelson said. "We thought, 'Lots of people have smartphones these days, so why not create a tool where they could use their own phone to take a tour?'"

The tour, which comes in segments, allows users to move at their own pace and sends relevent information based on where they decide to go.