The Art of Weeding

The Children’s Forest of Central Oregon Helps Facilitate outdoor learning opportunities for kids

By Jim Anderson

outdoors-photo

There’s a wonderful way for children to get outside the classroom during school time – not to escape learning, but to actually learn more about the planet Earth: by participating in the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon’s knapweed-pulling project.

Last May, stewardship specialists from the Children’s Forest, Tory Kurtz and Molly Honea, along with Nicki Endler — who works for Heart of Oregon — visited Pilot Butte Middle School to acquaint 6th-grade students with the invasive species known as knapweed, and more specifically, to teach them how and why to remove it from the landscape. In addition to the Children’s Forest team, Kate Odneal, a botanist with the Deschutes National Forest was along for the day.

All the 6th-grade students went out into the state lands on the east side of Pilot Butte and in an hour made a huge dent in the nasty intrusive knapweed population that was choking out the native vegetation — but it sure wasn’t easy. This was good old –fashioned hard work, and luckily, the students took to it like landscape experts.

If you ask any one of the 240 students that participated in the weed-pulling effort, they’ll tell you that grubbing out a well-established knapweed plant in soil that’s been compacted by years of abuse isn’t as easy at it sounds.

Nick Burke, one of the hard-working 6th-graders was smiling all over, in spite of the difficulty he and his two pals, Dawson Blackburn and Reid Altman were having as they wrestled with the l-o-n-g root stalk of the knapweed they’d tackled.

Tugging the alien plant out of the ground, he said, “This is good, getting rid of knapweed really helps out our native plants.”

Then Dawson chipped in with, “Yeah, we’re learning how removing knapweed helps to preserve our wildflowers.”

Reid put it all together when he said, “It’s good because we can see how it helps native grasses to grow, and it’s satisfying because you know you’re helping the environment.”
Like most outings that involve young people going outdoors to do environmental projects, pulling knapweed opened the door to the fascinating world of insects. As more and more knapweed was pulled from the hard-packed soils, beetle grubs began to appear, along with butterfly chrysalides and moth cocoons.

One of the teachers, Karl Schwarz, who has a strong background in entomology from OSU, is helping the students to gain more knowledge regarding competition with native plants. He’s also creating a living lab in his classroom where they keep the grubs, chrysalides and cocoons alive and allow them to mature into adult insects as they emerge.
Hopefully, the students themselves will carry on the weed-pulling efforts by taking their parents out and educating them in the world of invasive species.

Who knows, when one — or more— of those 6th-graders graduates from high school and looks toward the future, he or she may recall the discoveries they made while pulling weeds and look at the impact of weeds in agricultural studies, entomology, soils or native plants.

The non-profit, Children’s Forest, who facilitated the field trip, has the goal of, “Providing all Central Oregon students the opportunity to learn and explore outdoors through meaningful education programs.” They provide a suite of resources for teachers to make field trip planning easier, as well as providing opportunities for children to have fun outdoors.

Luckily, all local children will soon have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the Children’s Forest, as they are presenting the 2nd Annual Discover Nature Festival on Saturday, September 24th at Riverbend Park in Bend. The event is free and will feature:
Over 35 nature education, recreation, and art activities and games presented by over 20 different community organizations

Recreation activities including canoeing, archery, fly fishing practice, Leave No Trace activities, survival skills, a bike rodeo and more
Nature education activities including wildlife tracking, stream exploration, live birds of prey, volcano demonstrations and more

Health and wellness booths and activities highlighting the benefits of staying active, getting outdoors and eating healthy

For more information, contact Katie Chipko, Children’s Forest of Central Oregon Executive Director at (541) 383-5592 or email: katie@chilfensforestco.org

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