Karol Osborne | 3/27/2019 4:56:27 PM
(03/27/19) WOODWORTH, La. — Tall pine canopies and winding forest trails became an outdoor classroom for more than 600 Rapides Parish fifth-graders during Forest Awareness Week held March 18-22 at the Indian Creek Recreation Area in Woodworth.
Natural resource professionals from forestry agencies and industry set up stations along the Tom Prince Memorial Forest Awareness Trail to teach students about the value of forests and timber products through a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations.
Coordinated by the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Forestry Association and Rapides Parish School Board, the event encouraged children to explore the forest industry while learning about tree identification, wildlife management, forest insects and diseases, soil and water conservation, forest products manufacturing, and fire prevention and suppression.
The program is designed to help children understand that timber production and forest management are a process that ensures there will always be trees and forests, said Louisiana Forestry Association media specialist Jeff Zeringue.
“The forest is a perpetual resource that will continue as long as we take care of it,” he said.
The program has operated continuously since 1986 and is the longest-running forestry environmental educational program in Louisiana, said AgCenter forestry and wildlife agent Robbie Hutchins.
Held each fall and spring, the program annually draws about 1,500 students who hike trails, take part in demonstrations and play fun learning games, surrounded by the sights and sounds of forest life.
Activities allowed students to touch a live, nonvenomous snake, pull a soil sample, take a close-up look at some common forest insects and extract a section of wood tissue from a living tree.
James Wise, a fifth-grader at Northwood High School in Lena, said he was awed by the day’s activities, especially the fire prevention and suppression demonstration where he learned that setting a fire could stop a wildfire.
“The backfire burns the fuel before the wildfire gets there so it can’t hop over the fire break,” he said.
Gracie Bouton, also a Northwood fifth-grader, said, “I learned that you can pat down the fire and kill its oxygen by smothering it.”
The event is designed to bring students out of the classroom and into a nontraditional learning environment to heighten awareness, pique curiosity and provide a chance to ask questions, Hutchins said.
“Experiential learning programs are always effective when children can touch and see things firsthand,” Hutchins said.
Plainview High School teacher Hannah Perry said the program fit perfectly into her classroom science lessons.
“I’m really glad that they are able to answer all of the questions. It is reinforcement with a lot of visual representation,” she said.
According to demographic information supplied by the Rapides Parish School Board, more than 55 percent of the students that attend each year are from demographics traditionally considered to be underserved clientele in natural resource extension education, Hutchins said.
Zeringue said he was at first surprised to learn that many children living in the Alexandria area have never seen a concentration of trees larger than what they would see in a city park, yet they do not have to travel far to see a forest.
“This program reaches many students that may never otherwise be reached through other similar educational programs,” Hutchins said.
Volunteer instructors with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, U. S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, RoyOMartin and Graphic Packaging presented the interactive lessons at seven stations set up along the woodland trail.
The spring session is held at the Indian Creek Recreation Center, a part of the State Forest of Louisiana, while the fall session is held at the Kincaid Lake Recreation Area in the Kisatchie National Forest, Hutchins said.
Kohl Andies, a management forester with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, shows students at the Rapides Forest Awareness Day how to take tree tissue samples using an increment borer used by foresters and scientists to determine the age and growth rate of a tree. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter
U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Ashley Sturm gives students a closer look at a captive breeding female Louisiana pine snake, an endangered wildlife species. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter