In North Dakota, Multicultural Families Learn About Birds

After-school programs and a new park introduce Fargo's ethnic families to the birdlife that shares their state. 

List america’s well-known multicultural cities, and Fargo, North Dakota, probably won’t make the cut. “That’s actually unfortunate,” says Marshall Johnson, Audubon North Dakota’s program lead. “It is a very diverse city and is growing more and more so.” For example, Bosnians and Africans from various nations have moved here after fleeing war-torn areas. With a fellowship from TogetherGreen (a partnership between Audubon and Toyota), Johnson is helping his neighbors feel at home by introducing them to the local fauna. 

This fall he will launch the DakotaLark Youth Leadership Program, aimed at fourth and fifth graders from two of the city’s most diverse schools. The kids will learn about the area’s common avian species in a Birding 101 course that Johnson leads. “We have awesome grassland birds,” he says, including the western meadowlark, North Dakota’s state bird, which inspired his program’s name. Field trips to such natural attractions as the Red River Valley—“a great warbler location”—and Audubon’s own Edward M. Brigham III Sanctuary will enable students to apply their knowledge. In long-established Fargo families, says Johnson, “most every kid will have an ongoing outdoor experience through hunting.” But newer residents don’t share that tradition. “This is an opportunity to get the kids outdoors in a way that maybe they never would have experienced.”

A habitat restoration project, which Johnson also spearheads, will make it even easier for Fargo families to learn about their environment. With input from the city commissioner, the Parks District, and the Unicorn Community Association, Johnson identified a neglected 16-acre plot “smack dab in the most diverse community in all of North Dakota.” Adults and kids will help transform the site into native prairie using landscape plans inspired by North Dakota State University students who devoted their summer to designing its layout. Adds Johnson, “It will be the first birding-specific park in Fargo,” making home a little sweeter for everyone.

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