When you have a Ticket2Ride, there’s no telling how far you can travel! Twenty-six fifth grade students from 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 - that’s amazing and fun to just to get them out and excited.”

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.

“We know that children have a natural curiosity,” said Gwen Van Doosselaere, of ECO. “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.”

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 nonprofit Oregon State Parks Foundation that makes the experience happen.

PHOTOS: Fifth-grade students visit state park

Oregon State Parks already supports learning for hundreds of schools each year. They have accessible and inspiring locations, experienced dedicated staff and offer inspirational & 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 Seth Miller, the Director of the Oregon State Parks Foundation. “Our parks are natural classrooms bursting with opportunity for students to capture their fascination with science, if we can just get them outdoors!”

The Foundation pays for bus transportation to get the kids to the parks. The park even supplies Park 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,” said Miller. “Opportunities to learn about lumber, agriculture, the Oregon Trail, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Oregon State Parks can enhance learning for hundreds of schools each year.”

In the event that elementary school teachers are not prepared to teach the in-class science lessons, Ticket2Ride connects with the nonprofit, ECO, to support the experiential park lessons with three pre- and three post-visit lessons to the classroom. In fact, the Marysville students' classroom teacher, Kelli Joy, noted that ECO made learning fun.

“I look forward to their lessons as much as the student’s do! It’s such a treat to get these student’s out into nature and experiencing it first hand is making them better stewards.”

If you would like to visit more of Oregon – consider a walk on the wild side with my latest book: “Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find activities to engage any kid, from archery to clamming on the coast to hunting for thundereggs to zip-lining through trees in an aerial adventure park.

In addition, be sure to check out  “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.  You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon adventures in: "Grant's Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures."