A different kind of direction

Published 9:09 pm Thursday, May 21, 2009

This week, many local grade school students had the unique opportunity to enjoy their science class while being surrounded by trees, rather than surrounded by walls.

Students from several county schools learned about a variety of outdoors activities and jobs at the “Walk in the Forest,” held at Blue Lake Recreational Area on Tuesday through Thursday.

The schoolchildren enjoyed lessons on trees and soil, survival skills, growth rings in trees, poisonous plants, wildlife, forest fires and firefighting, and how to use a compass.

“We try to do this event every year,” said Mike Older, with the Alabama Forestry Commission. “It’s all about teaching the kids about the outdoors, and all of the schools are invited to participate. It’s obvious that the kids love to be outside and I hope they learn a lot while they’re here.”

Thursday, students from Straughn Elementary School and Pleasant Home School visited Blue Lake to watch the demonstrations. One of the more popular “stations” was the fire station, where Michael Heard and Steve Battle with the U.S. Forestry Service explained how forest rangers combat blazes in the Conecuh National Forest.

Heard demonstrated how a ball filled with the chemical magnesium phosphate will ignite when doused with antifreeze. He explained this is one way that forestry workers can start small control burns, and the demonstration of the small flames brought wide-eyed attention from the visiting students.

“I liked the fire station the best,” said Travis Lawson, a fifth grader at PHS. “I really like firefighters and fire and learning about them.”

Gary Thompson, with the Alabama Forestry Commission, instructed the children on the proper way to use a compass while in the woods. Other lessons during the day included information on trees and soil by Patricia Gable with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and an explanation of dangerous and poisonous plants by Travis Chesser and Alex Boldog.

“The kids really enjoy this day,” said Kristi Powell, a fifth grade teacher at PHS. “It’s a good tie-in for our (lessons) on ecosystems in the (Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative) program. Even I learned something I didn’t know about why some tree growth rings are thicker than others.”

The event was sponsored by the Forestry Committee, a joint venture between the NRCS, the Alabama Forestry Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, the county extension office and private businesses and landowners.