Learning a love for the land

Southside Elementary class spends time in nature with Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

There is nothing quite so magical as another season of growth shooting through the forest floor each spring. What began as a sapling might eventually grow into a towering tree providing shade for future generations, which then drops its seeds to the ground to start the cycle all over again. It’s hard to imagine a large tree originating from such humble beginnings, but it happens every spring to our shared delight.

It’s much the same with humans when we return to the locations where we were raised. I was fortunate to spend the afternoon of May 4 at my own beloved Southside Elementary School with Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society volunteers Bonnie Jakubos, John Hastings and Preston Andrews as they guided Terese Luikens’ fourth-grade class on a nature trail behind the school.

Bonnie Jakubos shows students different species of trees growing next to the nature trail behind Southside Elementary School. Photo by Ben Olson.

Jan Vann’s fifth-grade class built the Southside School Nature Trail in 1992. I know because I was part of that class and remember establishing the half-mile long trail with guideposts built along the way to point out key landscape features. When Jakubos sent an image of a trail booklet with a handwritten entry by my younger self, a flood of fond memories came back about those early days when I learned to love and appreciate the natural world, thanks to teachers and other educators who took the time to pass down their love and knowledge.

The KNPS outing aimed to instruct the young students about the unique quality of our forests in this region. Specifically, KNPS volunteers talked to the students about the fact that we are surrounded by the Pacific Northwest Inland Temperate Rainforest.

“We’re special here and so many people don’t know that,” Jakubos told the Reader while navigating the nearly 30-year-old trail leading up a small hill overlooking the school grounds and back down again on the other side of a creek.

Jakubos told Mrs. Luikens’ students about the roughly 700-mile-long rainforest that stretches all the way into northern British Columbia.

KNPS split the class into three groups, with each studying a different aspect of the environment as seen from the trail.

Preston Andrews, John Hastings and Bonnie Jakubos with KNPS prepare for the day. Photo by Ben Olson.

In one group, Andrews led the students along a small, dry creek bed to point out different species of trees to the students — emphasizing the fact that multiple species thrived in that particular location because of the proximity of a water source.

In Jakubos’ group, students sat in a hut erected alongside the trail with a pile of pine cones and local foliage next to them as they attempted to identify and draw each piece.

Finally, Hastings led his group with tape measures and yardsticks to gather transects, which are straight lines that cut through a landscape to make observations, take measurements and document data — in this case, about vegetation growth in a particular area.

“When we take transects, it’s looking at the arrival of spring,” Hastings told the students. “This is a common way for scientists to collect data to share with others.”

This project was just one of the many ways KNPS reaches out to local students to help spread awareness and love for the natural world that surrounds us. 

Speaking personally, it was a treat seeing the work I did with my classmates nearly 30 years ago is still being enjoyed by future stewards of our environment. 

To learn more about KNPS, visit nativeplantsociety.org.

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