March 15, 2023 717 PM
PRESIDIO — On March 4, Presidio ISD students and parents hit the water for a float through Big Bend Ranch State Park as a part of the district’s River Rangers program. The River Rangers have been working diligently over the past school year to test water quality on the Rio Grande — in the process learning fundamental lab skills and experiencing the complexity of the delicate river ecosystem.
The canoe trip was a fun way to provide a perspective from the water, taking in wildlife sightings and canyon views along the way. Mike Naccarato of Presidio’s Far West Texas Outfitters led the trip, courtesy of funding and coordination from the Big Bend Conservation Alliance.
The students had a great time floating the river — and learned a lot along the way. “It was very enjoyable,” said sophomore Karla Valdivia. “We had a lot of thrilling moments and plenty of time to work together and get to know one another.”
Some of the River Rangers’ parents also got to join in on the fun. For Manuela Cataño, mother of junior Ninel Cataño, it was a first — she had never been canoeing before. “Ninel and I have done a lot of fun stuff together in the outdoors, and this canoe trip is another memory that will strengthen our mother-daughter relationship,” she said.
The mother-daughter duo ended up flipping the boat, but didn’t let getting wet dampen their spirits. They found the whole experience enlightening — even in the drive to the put-in. “It was a great opportunity to appreciate the Big Hill and its geology from another angle,” she said. “The trip allowed the students to experience a natural resource that we sometimes take for granted living out here.”
The River Rangers program is a time-honored Presidio tradition — originally the brainchild of Presidio High School environmental science teacher Patt Sims, many students got to experience the magic of the Rio Grande, from the cellular level all the way up to the massive geological formations that make up the Big Bend.
The program faded after Sims’ retirement, but the Big Bend Conservation Alliance picked up where she left off last year with the help of the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation. The new generation of River Rangers started off with a small pilot program that taught middle school students basic chemistry concepts, but has since grown its range of programming and grade levels.
That program is set to grow even further with the announcement of a new grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Community Outdoor Outreach Program. Presidio’s cut of the $2.9 million program — benefitting 55 community organizations around the state — will support future River Rangers, with additional forays into the Davis Mountains and Balmorhea State Parks.
The Rangers are looking forward to a bright — and occasionally wet — future. Evangelina Olvera, mother of freshman Nancy Lara, was excited about the possibilities that could open up for her daughter and her classmates. “I think the greatest benefit to students is that they get to see nature, have the experiences and trust in their abilities to complete challenges,” she said.