True blue gifts

At the office the other day, Kara and I were busily drinking coffee, chatting about the holidays, and of course solving all the world’s problems, when suddenly Kara blurted out: “Why not post a gift guide that focuses on the gift of nature?!” “Yeah!” I said, “Why not?!” Then we sat in silence trying to think of why not.

We weren’t silent for long, and the more we talked (and coffee we drank) the better the idea sounded. And yes, we know, this isn’t exactly an original idea; we too have noticed our social media feeds are full of retailers and influencers posting their own gift guides. But lucky for you we aren’t retailers or influencers, and our take on the Holiday Gift Guide is quite literally off the beaten path.

If you are a regular reader of Bluevalue.blog then it should come as no surprise that the following gift ideas revolve around getting outside or engaging with the natural world in various ways. Why? Well, the list of physical, mental, psychological, social, emotional, cultural, economic, educational, and spiritual benefits that nature provides is way too long to squeeze onto this blog page, so I encourage you to check out these resources to learn more about why and how going outside as well as learning about the natural world is crucial to wellbeing. Or better yet, read all our blog posts. Long story short, when observed through a nature-centric lens, identifying and solving the world’s problems becomes a lot clearer. And it is through that lens that we offer this inaugural BlueValue Gift Guide.

And because we can’t actually solve the world’s problems all on our own, we reached out to the community of folks who are making big waves in the field (er, ocean?) of nature engagement: the Texas Children in Nature NetworkCoastal Bend Chapter. We persuaded our fantastic Network colleagues to share some of their ideas so that you can browse them all in one place.  And even if you don’t live in the Coastal Bend (or aren’t gifting people who live in this area) there are plenty of ideas here that are transferable to your locale.

The goal here isn’t to get you to spend your money on any one organization or product, but simply to consider nature as the greatest gift of all.  

For those that are concerned about cost, or purchasing more “things” that eventually become material waste; rest assured that it is possible to give heartfelt gifts to your loved ones without breaking the bank, and without adding more poison to the landfills, waterways, and ultimately our bodies. We also have ideas for folks that aren’t typically “into” nature. Even better, these nature-centric gifts can result in real-life health benefits to your loved ones, while also supporting organizations that work tirelessly to solve today’s toughest societal and environmental challenges via equitable access to nature.

The following gift ideas are listed in no particular order and include the names of the organizations that suggested them. Reach out to any of us if you have questions or if you want to share how you gave the gift of nature; we’d love to hear from you! And be sure to come back to this page as we will continue adding ideas.

Gyotaku: Fish Print

For anyone who enjoys art, fish, or both, our friend Holly Grand with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Coastal Fisheries Division suggests fish prints as a unique gift. Not sure what a fish print is, or how to make one? Holly’s got you covered. Check out her video where she explains this ancient Japanese art form while demonstrating how to do it. You can approach this gift idea several ways: make your own print to give, or purchase enough supplies to make the print together with your loved ones. If you decide to make the print together, you can even consider a fishing trip as part of the gift, if you want to use a real fish for the print rather than a model/faux fish. Get outside and get creative!

Birding Journal

Got a birder in the fam? Give a blank-paged journal to your favorite birder to sketch and take notes in the field (see these DIY tips), or purchase from a wide selection of ready-made birding journals online or at your favorite local bookstore. Sara Jose, Preserve Manager at Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve and Learning Center, recommends Bird Watching Book for Kids: A Journal to Observe and Record Your Birding Adventures by Kristine Rivers. Sara adds that this book can be used not only at Oso Bay preserve and other parks, but in your backyard too. She also recommends pairing the book or journal with a map of the Central Coast Birding Trail to help families discover new places, such as this one from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Padre Island National Seashore Park Pass

Kelly Taylor, Chief of Interpretation and Education at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS), recommends purchase of a Padre Island National Seashore Annual Pass as a gift of nature. Purchased online or in person, the annual pass is $45, allows for unlimited entrance, and is valid for one year from the month of purchase. The annual pass waives the entrance fee for everyone in the vehicle with the passholder and is only valid if held by the person who signs the pass. Additionally, for those folks who say, “Well, we don’t go to the Padre Island National Seashore because we don’t fish, camp, or drive on the beach…,” Kelly offers these PINS activities as great alternatives to fishing and camping, which are also covered by purchase of a park pass:

  • Walk the Grasslands Nature Trail 
  • Walk down the old road to the Novillo Line Camp and explore the camp
  • Watch migrating shore birds feed at the edge of the Laguna Madre
  • Check out the night sky (the National Seashore is open 24 hours a day!)
  • Watch a sea turtle release 
  • Watch the sun rise over the Gulf
  • Watch the sun set over the Laguna Madre
  • Participate in a Ranger guided program 
  • Search for treasures left by Mother Nature between the tides
Sea turtle release event at Padre Island National Seashore. Photo by Chris Hale

Along those same lines, consider the federal interagency pass, America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass which offers even more entrance perks across the country. And if you have a 4th grader that you are shopping for, you should know about the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, which is a free pass for any U.S. 4th grader and their families to enter into any public lands or waters in the U.S. for the entire school year, with fun activity guides you can download as well.

Texas State Parks Annual Pass

If a pass into the Seashore isn’t your thing, how about a pass that gets you into ALL Texas State Parks?! Our friendly local Ranger, Sarah Affeldt, Park Interpreter and Volunteer Coordinator over at Goose Island State Park, shares that a Texas State Parks Annual Pass is $70 and good for one year. An annual pass waives entrance fees for the pass holder and everyone in their vehicle (up to 15 people) at all Texas State Parks and provides discounts on camping, park store purchases, and equipment rentals. There are also a variety of free passes that provide discounted entrance fees for those who qualify. Passes can be purchased online or at any Texas State Park. Click here for Pass information. And if your gift-getter is into swag, TPWD also just launched an online park store with ornaments, mugs, stickers, and other fun state park collectibles.

Nature Activities Bingo

The fabulous Kim Ogden, Education Coordinator with the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program and Nueces Delta Preserve suggests Nature Activities Bingo as a nature-based game fun for all ages. This creative version of bingo gets people interacting with their immediate environment to engage the senses, emotions, brain, and body. It’s a great way to get people thinking about and experiencing their connection to the natural world, and it’s simple and FREE. Click below to view, download, and print, or use it as a model to create your own version.

Ecosystem Services Jenga

What about the people that really don’t enjoy sand in their suits or mud under their fingernails, or maybe they simply don’t have immediate access to nature? That’s ok! We have a gift for them, too. Our team here at BlueValue created the Ecosystem Services Jenga game, an interactive game that demonstrates the relationship between the physical, biological, and human component of coastal estuarine systems, such as those found along the Gulf of Mexico. The game uses the traditional Jenga © pieces to demonstrate how environmental and human changes can impact habitats and associated ecosystem services. Read more about it in Diana’s previous blog post! This is a great gift idea for educators of all types, or for science and nature enthusiasts. Click the link below to download and print a copy of the instructions, and to learn how to make a version of the game that is tailored to your ecoregion. And if regular- sized Jenga isn’t exciting enough, consider creating Ecosystem Services Giant Jenga for your next outdoor party!

Scavenger Hunt & Nature Trail

Photo courtesy of Adriana Reza.

Over at the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve located in Port Aransas, Education Coordinator Adriana Reza invites you to take a walk with friends and family along the trail at the Wetlands Education Center. This loop trail provides a snapshot look at various ecosystems from back-dunes to a man-made salt marsh and offers a variety of plants and animals to discover. Free guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. This is a great opportunity to chat with a Texas Master Naturalist who enjoys sharing their knowledge with everyone. As an added nature bonus, they offer a Scavenger Hunt for visitors. You can pick up their scavenger hunt card on-site or click below to view and print it for the next time you visit. Pair this idea with one of the nature identification guides suggested below!

Nature Identification Guidebooks

We all know a book worm. And most likely, that book worm needs more books. There are millions of nature-based books to choose from out there in the world, but Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies makes the choice much easier for us. In partnership with the Texas A&M University Press, they offer a wide variety of locally-relevant and nature-centric books covering a range of topics throughout Texas and the Gulf coast. Purchase the Texas Seashells: a field guide and pair it with a trip to the beach for a memorable beach-combing experience; or perhaps Marine Plants of the Texas Coast will submerge your gift-getter into a whole new world. This gift idea works no matter where you live; simply ask your local book store owner or librarian for advice on nature identification guide books specific to your region.

Photography & Birding Chartered Trip

While the folks at the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation love giving the “Gift that Keeps on Giving” — educating the Coastal Bend Community about environmental issues and opportunities through FREE monthly Coastal Issues Forums and Earth Day Bay Day festival — another excellent idea is gifting a one-of-kind photography and birding tour with Texas’s best birding tours: Aransas Bay Birding Charters. Our friend Tosha, Project Coordinator for the Foundation, shares that these charters are tailored to fit the needs of your group, and their boats are uniquely designed for photographers. Probably the best feature of their boats is the shallow draft capability, allowing you to get really close to the birds; you can get within 50 feet of the famous whooping cranes and even closer for most shorebirds.

Plants

What better way to give the gift of nature than giving your loved ones a living, breathing plant? You can gift them a plant meant to live outdoors in their yard, balcony, patio, or stoop; or you can give them a nice houseplant that thrives indoors. If you do decide to give a plant, opt for one that is native to your area, especially if the plant is going to be living outside. Not only will a native plant have much better odds of surviving in your local climate, but it will also support local birds and insects that need native species to survive! You also want to avoid the spread of invasive species, which nobody wants as a gift. To browse plants native to Texas visit the AgriLife Extension site, or Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Texas Master Naturalist Program also contains a wealth of native plant information and expertise, and you can find your local chapter here. Here in the Coastal Bend, our friends at Native Dave, Gil’s Nursey, Turner’s Gardenland, and Bloomers Nursery & Landscape are all excellent sources for native plants and information. And if you aren’t based in Texas, simply reach out to your local nursery and gardening store to ask about the best local native plants to give as gifts.

Smartphone Magnifiers and Microscopes

Texas Children in Nature Network‘s Executive Director Sarah Coles shared this fun gift idea for the curious-minded people in your life: a microscope that attaches directly to your phone, allowing you to view and take up-close photos or video of nature’s tiniest wonders! She added that when she purchased one, she spent hours in her flower garden looking at pollen. You can find a variety of smartphone adapters and attachments online, ranging from clip-on magnifiers to more advanced microscope set ups, so depending on your gift-getter’s type of phone and interest levels, you can find one that works best for them.

Surf Lessons

Don’t tell my kids, but their grandparents are getting them surf lessons for Christmas this year! We’re stoked. Surfing is a thrilling way to connect with the ocean, and the positive gains from whole body physical activity, immersion in the salty sea, breathing of the salty air, and soaking in Vitamin D will leave smiles on your faces all day long. And the mental and emotional benefits of building a new skill, as well as the social benefits from interacting with others in the surfing community can last a lifetime. Luckily, the Surfrider Foundation has chapters and clubs throughout the U.S., with an extensive network of surfing enthusiasts, novices, and experts who organize learn-to-surf events – often for free – and offer equipment to borrow or rent. There are also local surf camps offered seasonally, such as this one, or simply reach out to your nearest surf shop for advice. Be safe out there!

Author: Chris Hale

If Chris's work could be described by a Venn diagram, it would fit in the segment where the marine science circle overlaps with the human dimensions circle. With spare time, she loves adventuring outdoors with family and friends, or creating things with clay and fire in her she-shed. Her two kids are her greatest joy.

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