Pirates, beavers, and eagles recently descended on the Crossett Experimental Forest. These are the names of the school mascots for the more than 150 students from Lakeside, Drew Central, and Crossett high schools in Arkansas who showed up for a day of hands-on forestry learning brought to them by faculty and staff from the U.S. Forest Service and University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM).
“We were quite surprised that so many teachers wanted to bring kids to this event, and we had to turn some of them away,” said Don Bragg, research forester with the SRS Southern Pine Ecology unit in Monticello. “These were not just kids who wanted to get out of school for the day. Most of these students are involved in 4-H, forestry or biology programs at their school.”
Large machinery used to fight fires crashing through the forest, a portable saw mill sawing logs, foresters with Biltmore sticks and clinometers in hand, and wildlife biologists with animal pelts were set up to give students an understanding of possible career paths in forestry. “We want them to see the science and what goes into forest management,” said Jim Guldin, project leader of the Southern Pine Ecology unit. “We want them to think about natural resources as a possible career option.”
“I am not exactly for sure what I am going to do in the future,” said Jayleen Brown, a junior at Lakeside High School. “I may want to go into the military, but this is neat, learning about the forest. It might just help me decide what I want to do later on in life.”
At the portable sawmill, sawdust was flying while students stood a safe distance away. “Which board would be good for building? ” asked Matthew Pelkki, Professor, UAM. While the students were busy looking at the difference between the two boards, he went on to ask “What can be done with all of the leftover wood, sawdust, tree branches?” Pointing to a nearby pellet stove that was blazing hot on a relatively cool spring day in Arkansas, he answered his own question. “You can heat your house with it. I use one of these to heat my home in the winter.”
You can’t go to a forest without a hike in the woods. While most kids came prepared with hiking boots, others tried to maneuver the sometime sloppy trail in their running shoes. A stop along the way to the eddy flux tower installed on the Crossett had the kids looking up with mouths wide open. “Wow! I have never seen a tree this large before,” were the words coming from the students’ mouths. Andrew Nelson, assistant professor at UAM, told the students how seeds gathered from possibly this tree and others like it helped to reseed the South after many areas were left barren wastelands from clear cut timber harvests.
The next stop at the eddy flux tower had a little competition when some of the students focused on a large spider that was crawling around the equipment hanging from the trees below the 120-foot tower. But most students listened intently to the explanation of the eddy flux tower, and were excited to learn that their local forest was being used to monitor changing levels of carbon dioxide.
For more information, email Don Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.