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School forest sought for Lester Park School in Duluth | Duluth News Tribune

Published January 16, 2013, 12:00 AM

School forest sought for Lester Park School in Duluth

A little patch of woods next to Lester Park Elementary School is on its way to earning school forest designation.

By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune

A little patch of woods next to Lester Park Elementary School is on its way to earning school forest designation.

Katie Kyyhkynen’s fifth-graders, along with University of Minnesota Duluth graduate students, have been working on a proposal for the state

Department of Natural Resources all year.

On Tuesday, several of the students presented their plan to the Duluth School Board, asking it to approve the roughly half-acre of land on Glenwood Street for the designation.

A school forest, which would have the benefit of trails, outdoor classrooms and curriculum provided by the DNR, “would help teachers reach out to all kids, because some kids like to learn outside better than in a classroom,” said student Mariah Loeffler-Kemp. “And it benefits the community because everyone in the neighborhood can use the forest.”

The land is owned by the school district and would remain so under the designation. But if the DNR accepts the proposal, it establishes a promise that the school manage it under DNR requirements and, in exchange, the DNR provides benefits to the school, said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for the district. Those include access to conservation and wildlife managers, stewardship plans, educational materials, grant-writing help and a workshop on how to teach in the school’s specific school forest. Duluth East High School also is working on a School Forest proposal.

“I think this is definitely a catalyst opportunity,” Leider said, noting he’d notify board members of opportunities for school forests at other schools, such as Lincoln Park Middle School. Lakewood Elementary has the 7.5-acre Lakewood Nature Trail and School Forest.

A creek runs through the Lester Park land, where students already have been spending time with classes, and parents have been working hard to clear brush, said principal Bonnie Wolden.

If approved, part of the project will entail going through the creek naming process with the city, she said.

The trails also would be made accessible to all students, Wolden said.

At the meeting, students took turns touting the academic benefits of a school forest, ticking off a list of trees, plants and animals that inhabit the space: Norway maple, quaking aspen, raspberry, honeysuckle, the dark-eyed junco and downy woodpecker and white-tailed deer, to name some.

The designation gives the school the resources and expertise of the DNR and will help bring health to the forest, said Tom Westrum, a parent who has worked on the proposal.

And for parents, students and others who haven’t yet found their niche, he said, a school forest is a good way to be part of something.

The Proctor school district has two school forests; one at Bay View Elementary School with 62.5 acres and one at Pike Lake Elementary with 24 acres. North Shore Elementary School has 40 acres of school forest land.

School forest sought for Lester Park School in Duluth | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

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