The Elkhorn Slough is a magical place full of wildlife and beauty. Meandering seven miles inland from the coast in the center of the picturesque Monterey Bay, the Elkhorn Slough harbors the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California outside of San Francisco Bay. This biologically rich estuary provides habitat for a diversity of resident and migratory birds, plants, marine mammals and fish, and has been identified as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Birding Conservancy.
As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted our community and required residents of Monterey County to follow the shelter in place order, which severely limited person-to-person interactions. Many organizations like Elkhorn Slough suddenly needed to adapt to a changing landscape and face big challenges in order to virtually keep their doors open to serve. A big question they had to answer was, “How can we stay connected to our school programs and volunteering community when more than half of our services rely on in-person activities?” Elkhorn Slough had to find a way to get creative and facilitate connections to continue to serve these needs. Prior to the pandemic hitting, Ariel Hunter, the organization’s Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator, had created and initiated their own social media page where arts and crafts activities began to develop remotely. This social media page had very few followers at first… until there was a greater need for online tools.
Virginia Guhin, the Elkhorn Slough Education and Visitor program coordinator, partnered with Hunter to create a more robust and active social media page. “What can we get up and running right away for those parents finding themselves waking up on Monday mornings at home with their kids?” Guhin recalls asking as she recounted the dilemma they had to solve once the stay-at-home order was in place. That’s when they developed social media as a portal for offering educational activities and needs, not only for students, but for parents as well.
The expanded social media page kept users busy, while having fun at the same time. By adding eye-catching and interesting pictures to the webpage, in addition to making online activities easily available, users started logging on frequently. Although everyone agrees that in-person programs are preferred, the online services allowed Elkhorn Slough to remain open and serve their community. Once they got the hang of using this online platform, Hunter and Guhin were able to get more creative with it. One week, they posted pictures of cute animals that seemed to get the attention of more people and increase participation. By the end of the week, they noticed a dramatic change in their followers... by over 1,000!
Each week, there were different themes on the page from Do-It-Yourself (DIY) videos to game ideas for nature-play with children. The number of followers continued to grow, and the scope of the participating audience changed as well. Weekly campaigns were conducted from March until Elkhorn Slough was able to open in September 2020. As we have all learned during this pandemic, online platforms can reach far beyond the local audience, too. Facebook viewers were people from all over the world, including someone from England.
“Thanks to the Facebook page, the in-person interaction with the organization also grew,” said Hunter. Locals who had not previously known about Elkhorn Slough were now discovering another great local place to experience the benefits of nature in a variety of ways.
For Elkhorn Slough, supporting communities to get through the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the best ways to support community resiliency. The local Monterey community is always important to Elkhorn Slough’s mission, of course, but engaging a broader global audience was very special. This pandemic period gave them an opportunity to really identify a gift to the community which they had not capitalized on--relaxation. Individuals found the magic in the beautiful outdoors. Elkhorn Slough is a place where people can find solitude and relaxation, and just be themselves in peaceful nature. Hunter believes that as a community, we can grow from these tough times. We may realize that we need more reflection time or simply more space. No matter the need, connecting with nature can only help!
To find more information about Elkhorn Slough’s mission and initiatives, visit their website: