The morning sunshine chased the shivers away — or maybe it was simply the act of running across a meadow chasing bugs that warmed up the students from Baker High School on a chilly autumn morning.
Science classes from BHS spent Tuesday, Sept. 28 and Wednesday, Sept. 29 exploring nature during a field trip to Phillips Park, at the base of the Elkhorn Mountains, followed by lunch and hiking at Anthony Lakes.
In addition to science teachers Nicole Sullivan and Tim Smith, students heard from local experts on forest health and insects.
“The main focus is to get them outside and enjoying nature. And to identify some species,” Sullivan said.
Tuesday’s trip was for students in advanced biology, advanced ecology and environmental science. Wednesday included students from biology and general science classes.
Each group moved through the various stations.
At Sullivan’s stop, the students piled sticks in areas where the landowners can later burn the extra fuel. Each group took a selfie with their pile, and she awarded a prize for the biggest stack. Once done with that task, each student selected a stick for roasting marshmallows at the s’mores station.
(Where nearly every student immediately burned the mallow and happily consumed the blackened, sticky mess sandwiched with chocolate and graham crackers.)
“Story Time with Steve” featured a talk with Steve Edwards, who explained the difference between a managed forest and a stand of trees that is not thinned or cleared of underbrush — and what that can mean for the health of the trees.
“The root system is two times the diameter (of the crown),” he said. “That tree and this tree are competing.”
At the insect station with Lia Spiegel, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service, the teenagers looked at samples of tree bark and the beetles that burrow inside.
“Every tree has a different beetle, and a different pattern under the bark,” she said. “I don’t study bugs exactly — I study the forest and why trees are dying.”
Then the students took up nets to catch some specimens in the nearby meadow (and warm up in the sunshine).
Bob Hassmiller from the Forest Service presented on Tuesday for the science field trips. He talked about the watershed, streams, snow load, and impacts on the ecosystem.
At other stops, Christy Johnson from the Forest Service talked about forest health, and Kati Stuchlik supplied watercolor paints at the “Bob Ross Watercolor Station” so the students could “paint a happy little tree.”
(She even played soft music and wore a wig to emulate Bob Ross, painter and host of “The Joy of Painting” that aired on PBS.)
A station with horseshoes and cornhole games spurred laughter that echoed through the forest, and Smith lead groups on a “Neature Walk” — “Because nature is neat,” Sullivan said with a grin — as they gathered photos of trees, insects and animal prints for the scavenger hunt.
And Sullivan threw in an extra challenge to that task.
“Try to get a photobomb with Mr. Smith,” she whispered to the kids before they set off on their mission.