By Ray Lorenz
In case you haven’t yet heard or read the slogans or messages like, “Trees are People, Too” or “Don’t Kill Our Trees,” your children probably have. A growing number of classrooms across the country are staffed by pro-preservationist teachers who are making anti-forestry misinformation a part of the daily curriculum.
In short, primary grade and high school youths are being taught junk science and glib “No touch” platitudes about very complex environmental issues. Preservationists are trying to prey on upcoming generations and instill knee-jerk environmentalist mindsets. Sensible, scientific multi-use themes are glossed over or ignored.
Luckily, a new concept in environmental education has taken root in Lanesboro, Minn., near Rochester. The Forest Resource Center is fully on stream and teaching school kids and teachers alike the multi-use approach to woods and waters. The non-profit organization operates under the clear mission statement:
“The Forest Resource Center is dedicated to promoting the responsible use, renewal, and appreciation of our natural resources.”
Ideal setting. The Center is based near the village of Lanesboro in southeastern Minnesota, and sits in the 900 acre “Brightsdale Unit” of the Richard Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. The region is known for its hardwood-cloaked hills, river valleys and limestone bluffs, ideal settings for indoor and outdoor classroom learning and recreation.
The Forest Resource Center is one of five Residential Environmental Learning Centers (RELCs) sprinkled across eastern Minnesota. Formed in 1993 and partnered by the Blandin Foundation, a Minnesota-based foundation dedicated to strengthening rural life in the state, the project is seeking other individual, corporate and foundation funds. Joe Deden, executive director of the FRC, lives on the premises with his family, and manages the organization’s daily, year around activities. “In October, we had over 1,500 children of all school ages visit us. And weekends regularly bring in 800 plus adults. We host about 7,500 adults and children per year. Also, organizations such as the Iowa Society of American Forestry come here for conferences.”
Teaching the basics. He explains that visitors include school groups, businesses and organizations, private forest owners, plus families and individuals. “Our staff, both volunteer and full-time, provides guided eco-tours of the area, classes in forest management, tree identification, wildlife habitat, and the history and geology of our bluff region,” he says. “Children and adults learn the basics of why trees are responsibly harvested, how forests fit society’s needs. And we use simple and understandable lessons in how mankind fits into nature’s scheme of things.”
Another important element to the FRC – “Life Skills.” In the Center’s hardwoods, the “Treetops Confidence Course” serves youngsters with a variety of confidence and coordination building activities. P.E. teachers and team coaches bring students here for rope walking and trail climbing. Far from being a Disney-style “Whee, let’s go for a ride” atmosphere, the courses effectively promote personal growth and self-esteem.
A schoolteacher recently noted: “Teens aren’t likely to enhance their personal growth by hanging out at a mall. Here, they get a taste of fresh air and self-confidence.”
The anchor of the FRC’s 13-acre site is its John Schroeder Renewable Resources Building which holds classrooms, offices, dining room, and a full kitchen. It’s a spacious blend of modern and rustic decor where education is the nucleus role, especially for schoolteachers across Minnesota.
Dick Jones, president of the FRC’s board of directors, views an informed public as the prime buffer against those who are fighting to halt or drastically curtail the wise use of renewable resources.
“The biggest enemy of our wood products industry is not the preservationists, but the environmental ignorance of the public,” he declares. “Preservationists are playing on the public’s lack of knowledge of forest management and the outdoors.”
Get involved. Jones, President of T.T. Jones Corp, a wholesaler of imported and domestic hardwoods in the Twin Cities area, is deeply committed to the Forest Research Center. “We must become involved in the educational and political process, now not later, before it’s too late.”
However, the lumber industry veteran believes our multi-use philosophy is being increasingly heard by consumers. “People are moving toward logic now. The preservationist groups are short on money and losing political power. But they’ll be back. Their existence depends on it. We have some painful battles ahead.”
And that’s where the importance of classroom and field-type nature education arises. The FRC is “enlightening the new teachers as they reach the intern stage and beyond,” notes Jones.
“As they learn more about the natural world and how man fits in, and about the true environmental costs of alternative building materials, they become role models for other teachers throughout the nation.”
Spreading the word. Executive Director Joe Deden adds: “We’re educating many teaching interns every year, but we hope to school many more who will eventually travel the country and teach other school systems. We want to double that amount once we launch our new dormitory facilities.”
Both Deden and Jones are seeking help from private citizens and industry. “We’re trying to raise $9 million in donations so we can be entirely self-supporting via program revenues,” reports Deden. So far, we are surviving through corporate support. If we can move ahead financially, we will double the amount of people the program reaches.”
The FRC plans to build a 32,000-sq. ft. dormitory complex for overnight and week long stays. If the board of directors and the Blandin Foundation successfully complete the fundraising campaign, the Center will be able to house 180 occupants by 1996, and 240 by 1997.
A teacher speaks. How vital is the FRC’s fund drive? Just ask Joanne Liska, a science and math teacher at Madison Elementary School, Winona, Minn. She and her students recently visited the Center for the third time.
I came in with little outdoors know-how, but the Center’s workshops and Environmental curriculum is a good example of how teachers teach other teachers,” she reports.
“The on-site naturalists and certified environmental teachers have certainly given me and my sixth-graders more insight into the balance between nature and mankind’s stewardship,” she adds. “Our students enjoy the Field courses and informal classroom projects, and I’ve spoken with many parents who wish they could spend an entire weekend at the Center.”
Liska explains: “in my mind, it’s vital that these youngsters gain a head-start in learning how to care for the environment.” For more information, contact the Forest Resource Center, 1991 Brightsdale Rd., Rt. 2, Box 156A, Lanesboro, MN 55949.
Reprinted with permission from Building Materials Retailer magazine, a monthly publication.
Ray Lorenz is Executive Editor of the publication. For more information contact Building Materials Magazine at 1-800-328-9125
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