Passing on the Forestry and Conservation Passion
for Generations to Come
There is nothing quite like the feeling of grabbing a young child’s full attention and seeing the spark in their eyes light up when they learn something new. At the Walk on the Wild Side charity event, the LandVest – Ridgway office was granted the opportunity to teach approximately 100, 4-through 11-year-old children, how to differentiate between tree species, age stems, and about the myriad of resources trees provide.
This educational event geared toward youth and organized by the Tricounty Rails to Trails Association, raised money to maintain the Clarion-Little Toby Trail. This scenic rail-trail follows the beautiful Clarion River and Toby Creek meandering from historic Ridgway to Brockway. Thousands of people utilize this recreation-friendly majestic trail every year to bike ride, run, and view native flora and fauna.
The event took place at the Ridgway trailhead where local agencies, organizations, and private companies including the Game Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Penn State Extension, and LandVest all staffed tables equipped with hands-on environmental-related activities for kids and adults to enjoy. Representatives from LandVest showed attendees leaf, twig, and stem cross-sections, as well as cordwood samples, while also highlighting the importance of managing forestland. It was apparent how young minds are like sponges that can absorb new information readily when intrigued. White Oak leaves were associated with ghosts adorned with white sheets because of a White Oak leaf’s rounded lobes. Sassafras leaves reminded children of dinosaur feet which always evoked a chuckle. A scratch-and-sniff identification game left the children in total awe after smelling Yellow Birch twigs that emitted a refreshing winter mint aroma: Black Cherry twigs with leaves similar to Yellow Birch that reeked of cyanide, and Sassafras twigs that reminded them of a sweet, crisp apple. Adults also made connections to trees on their properties and were excited to identify ones in their backyards with their families.
It was encouraging to watch the children’s colorful faces express fascination through their gasps and wide smiles when learning how to age a stem by counting the rings on a Yellow Poplar and Sugar Maple cross-section, often referred to as cookies. Many were blown away by the 6-year-old Yellow Poplar having a larger diameter than the smaller 60-year-old Sugar Maple. Most had already learned this in school that it is not the size, but the growth rings that give away the tree’s age. However, all the kids were eager to count the rings with the LandVest representative, forest technician Rebecca Holdowsky, and learn about how a larger sun-loving species such as Yellow Poplar could be strikingly younger than a shade-tolerant, slow-growing Sugar Maple. A whole group of children wanted their diameters measured using the forestry tool, a diameter tape, and were delighted to find out they’re all 6- to 7-inch “trees.”
Another activity that LandVest employee, PA regional forester Michael Hovatter, facilitated was leading the children on a tree species identification adventure down the Clarion Little Toby Trail. Not only were the children able to find all the species, but there were also some surprises along the way. They found a fawn napping and a bat roosting, manifesting the significance of trees for wildlife habitat.
Yet, the most rewarding part of all was the number of children of all ages who could not resist trying on LandVest hardhats and cruising vests; LandVest employees may have even met a future forester that day.
By the end of this jam-packed event, children left with high spirits and faces demonstrating expressions of thrill and motivation to learn more about the forest and trees they grew up appreciating just in their backyard. Although, this time they will know what identification features to look for, feel, and smell.