When you have a “Ticket2Ride,” there’s no telling how far you can travel!

Twenty-six fifth-grade students from Southeast Portland’s Marysville Elementary School recently gathered for science class along the Maple Ridge Trail at Tryon Creek State Park in Lake Oswego.

Their field trip teacher for the day was Julie Baweja, a science expert from ECO or Ecology Classrooms Outdoors, who said that youngsters are always eager learners.

“It is oftentimes the first time they’ve been outside of their school in a huge park setting like Tryon Creek," she said. "That’s amazing and fun to just to get them out and excited."

“We know that children have a natural curiosity,” said ECO Director Gwen Van Doosselaere. “They come outside and everything is new and everything sparkles and they can run around. It engages all of their senses and it’s a very embodied experience.”

PHOTOS: Fifth-grade students visit state park

Ticket2Ride enables K-8 schools in minority and low- to moderate-income communities to use the Oregon’s State Parks for experiential learning, a sort of outdoor science lab.

It’s a unique blend of hands-on environmental education that allows the program to get off the ground, but it’s also the generous support from the non-profit Oregon State Parks Foundation that makes the experience happen.

Oregon State Parks already supports learning for hundreds of schools each year. They have accessible and inspiring locations, experienced dedicated staff and offer inspirational and effective learning experiences. The schools simply need to be able to get the kids to the parks.

“When I found out that many urban kids were being forced to stay in their schools and work with their computers and books and can’t get outside to touch the leaves and learn about the animals and the rocks and trees, I said ‘I want to do something about that,' ” said Oregon State Parks Foundation Director Seth Miller.

"Our parks are natural classrooms bursting with opportunity for students to capture their fascination with science, if we can just get them outdoors," Miller said.

Once in the parks, a world of learning begins as young people discover their natural, cultural and historical heritage and enjoy recreational opportunities.

“These experiences can set kids on a trajectory to a lifelong fascination with, and participation in, numerous areas of biological, chemical, physical and earth sciences; and begin a lifelong relationship with the great outdoors,” Miller said.

The Foundation pays for bus transportation to get the kids to the parks. The park even supplies Rangers like Deb Hill who showed off the bones and skulls of varied wildlife species and talked about their natural history:

“We have more than 260 parks in a world class state park system,” said Hill. ”We have beaches, rivers, mountains, canyons, forests, waterfalls, volcanoes and fields all available as outdoors science labs. Tryon Creek SP is a magical park – it can feel like you are out in wilderness down by the creek. You don’t hear the traffic and it can almost feel like you’re out in the wilderness. It’s a tremendous place to learn.”

The sheer variety of ECO lessons is remarkable; from fish, trees, moss and lichens to guided tours on plant identifications, rainforest tours and even history tours.

“Many of our parks also offer great history lessons -- opportunities to learn about lumber, agriculture, the Oregon Trail (and) the Civilian Conservation Corps," Miller said. "Oregon State Parks can enhance learning for hundreds of schools each year. They have accessible and inspiring locations, experienced dedicated staff and offer inspirational and effective learning experiences.”

In the event that elementary school teachers are not prepared to teach the in-class science lessons, Ticket2Ride connects with the non-profit ECO to support the experiential park lessons with three lessons inside the classroom both before and after the visit to the state park.

Marysville Elementary School teacher Kelli Joy noted that ECO made learning fun.

“I look forward to their lessons as much as the students do," she said. "It’s such a treat to get these students out into nature. Experiencing it first-hand is making them better stewards.”

So far, nine Portland schools have participated in Ticket2Ride during the Fall of 2016. The Oregon State Parks Foundation is eager to make the program grow bigger.

“The greater vision is to open this program up statewide to any school in Oregon,” said Ward Johnson, Ticket2Ride program manager. “The purpose would be to fund the transportation. Often it’s the transportation that’s the hardest thing to getting kids out to the parks.”

“Children are spending less time than ever before in the great outdoors,” Miller said. “Television, video games, homework, computers, the internet, busy families and strained budgets all conspire to reduce our children's exposure to nature.”

In fact, sedentary activities are linked with the rise in childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

Increasing evidence demonstrates the many benefits of nature on children's psychological and physical well-being, including reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity and improved concentration.

Gwen Van Doosselaere summed it up well: “For a lot of these kids, Ticket2Ride can end up shaping, really, the rest of their lives.”

If you would like to explore more of Oregon, consider a walk on the wild side with my new book: “Grant’s Getaways Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon.”

You will enjoy 48 uniquely Oregon adventures highlighting my fish and wildlife encounters. Scores of colorful photos by “Grant’s Getaways” photographer, Jeff Kastner, show off some of our finest moments in the field.

The stories offer detailed directions and promise to set you on your own path of discovery across Oregon. The new book is also available as an E-book download so you can take my new book with you on the road.

Visit Travel Oregon for an extended version of this story and to see past versions of Grant's Getaways.

Grant's Getaways is produced in partnership with Travel Oregon, as well as:
Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.
Oregon State Marine Board

You can learn more about many of Grant’s favorite Oregon adventures in his new book: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures"