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Celebrating River Valley recreation; Part 2 The outdoor classroom at Bryant Pond
Editor’s Note: As a year-end project, students at Mountain Valley Middle School celebrated recreation in the River Valley. The classes were divided, and each group had various opportunities to learn about local recreation over the last couple weeks of the school year.
Please enjoy the second of the four-part series that highlights their recreational, but educational adventures.
BRYANT POND- The seventh graders, having had two days to get used to their routine at the UMaine 4H Camp & Learning Center, were old hats at what was expected of them by their third day. Upon meeting them in the dining hall for a day-long adventure, this reporter was pleasantly surprised to see how well-organized the students were.
Already being teamed up in groups of 10; five girls and five boys, the teams had their agendas for the day and were ready to get started, following a full breakfast.
The first group I had the pleasure of tagging along with was in charge of compost with field instructor, Brian Lenberg, in order to dispose of the morning’s scraps and to learn how the compost works.
Being a beginner in composting, this reporter looked forward to learning right along with the students.
Before getting to the compost bins, students stopped at a small garden, where Lenberg shared the “skittle-flavored” garden sorrel and invited everyone to try a taste. Needless to say, kids noses turned up and the flavor was more along the lines of a mouth-puckering lemon.
The sorrel, normally eaten by species of butterflies and moths, most likely prefer the “sorrel flavor” over skittles, themselves.
Moving on to the compost bins at the edge of tree line, Lenberg explained to the students that what they were looking at was current compost, as well as one year- and two year-old material.
There was also a working bin of decaying material that held dead leaves and grass clippings to be placed in the current bin after each food addition.
“I have no problem putting my hand in the compost,” noted Lenberg, as he picked up a decaying apple in the current compost. “Here is the working compost that we are currently adding to. You may notice it has a bit of an odor to it. Moving over here, we have the one year compost, which is still a little chunky and here we have the two year compost.”
Digging his hand deep into the pile of dirt, Lenberg brought out a handful of rich, dark compost for the students to study. “You see, this is ready to go back in the garden. Look at how rich it is and it smells like soil.”
Lenberg educated students that not only does the act of composting help the environment, but it helps build your own nutrient-rich soil to use in your gardens. With the compost reaching 110 degrees, thanks to the help of the nitrogen sources (food matter) and the carbon sources (leaves, grass), they provide a good environment for microorganisms to break down the product.
“When you begin to smell the ammonia coming from the pile,” noted Lenberg. “That’s when you should be turning the pile often. It’s the smell of success.”
There was also a worm compost bin, which contained worms feeding on coffee grounds with the dirt they live in. Lenberg stated that as the worms eat the coffee grounds they become hyperactive from them and then they spread their castings all over the place, making it good fertilizer for the soil.
As students were finding it hard to take a deep breath close to the compost, it was time to move on to their first outing of the day, canoeing on Lake Christopher.
With instruction on how to fit the paddle and life vest to your body and a short lesson on how to paddle and where you should sit in the canoe, as well as the golden rule, that there would be zero tolerance for tipping, students were anxious to get out on the calm water.
Students partnered up and it was time to start loading up canoes. Two-by-two they headed out onto the water to form a linked barge until the rest of us paddled out to them.
A morning paddle out to the middle of the lake with two loons echoing and surfacing for show, students figuring out who was the stronger paddler and switching ends of the canoe, not to mention the opportunity to bask in the warm sunshine, it was great to see the girls and boys taking full advantage of the trip.
Getting back on land, it was time to switch to the next camp adventure.
Tracking down Field Instructor, Kat Vollinger, and the next group of students, who were eager to learn some wilderness survival skills, they shared their excitement and experience of string stalk from the night before.
“It was really cool,” noted Baylee Dresser, as she helped her classmate, Saryn Magee, carry the wooden tote of survival gear up the hill into the wooded classroom. “We had to walk barefoot, toe to heel and we were blindfolded. We had to listen for the sounds and feel for the things that were around us. It was kind of freaky, but really cool.”
Locating the classroom in the middle of a stand of young pine trees, Field Instructor Vollinger asked, “What are your real needs when you find yourself stranded in the woods? You need to stay calm and use S-T-O-P.”
Prompting from the students what the letters stood for, the class learned to Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. “The most important tool you’re going to need is your brain,” noted Vollinger. “We’re going to use the rule of three; Number one being your attitude toward your situation. That will be the number one thing that helps you survive. Two, is your shelter, which includes your clothes on your back, and three, is water. Dehydration is the number one cause of injuries in the wild.”
Students broke up into two groups and learned the proper way to set up a tarp for shelter using the surrounding roots and rocks as stakes to tie down their tarps. They practiced how to tie a bolen knot and form a trucker’s hitch. “We should do this sometime for fun,” noted Magee.
When both shelters were in place, Vollinger inspected her charges’ efforts, “Well done! For the first time building a shelter, you guys did a great job!”
During lunch break, several students were waiting to enter the dining hall. Taking the opportunity to interview them to their experience, this reporter learned that the food was amazing (one boy admitting that it was better than being at home and this reporter swore to keeping his identity confidential), some students were freaking out over the bugs that were hatching all over the place and several noted how they were encountering a lot of firsts during this trip.
MVMS teacher, Lindsay MacMillan noted, “It’s really interesting to see students excel in their element. It’s neat to see the ones who hang back in the classroom get out here and really show their true colors.”
After lunch it was off to the gardens, where the students did some weeding and raking in order to get the pole beans planted.
“There’s nothing wrong with getting a little dirt on your hands,” laughed Vollinger. “Won’t it be exciting to see our little garden grow if you come back this summer for camp.”
Vollinger expressed how, by planting a garden, people can maximize their green footprint and minimize their carbon footprint on earth. She shared that the average distance food travels to be sold in area stores is 2,000 miles. “Think of the money you can save if you plant your own,” noted Vollinger.
While visiting the garden, another group of students were tending to the laying hens and three baby chicks in the henhouse, as well as Jasper, the pet rabbit, in his nearby a-frame.
Isaac Gallant, noted, “This has been an exciting experience. It really is breathtaking to be around nature like this. Being able to go canoeing and kayaking, and to see the water life has been the best part.”
Now, if you have never been to the UMaine 4H Camp & Learning Center, you wouldn’t know that the grounds are nicely organized and spread out for a real learning campus feel. Even though the students spent the week at camp, they got plenty of exercise going from class to class.
A great benefit for the students, was the shooting range, located safely on the edge of the property, facing the hillside. Each group of kids was able to take either the rifle or bow hunter safety course while at camp, something they would all need if they planned to hunt on their own license when they turn 16.
Instructors Ryan LeShane and Harry Leahey started from square one with each group of students.
“You can tell who has developed some not-so-safe habits by watching family members,” noted Leahey. “It’s great to get them all out here in a safe environment and start with the basics of safety and to learn proper ethics. That way those kids who haven’t had much experience learn the safe way and to not be scared of the process.”
LeShane, a 13-year-veteran of the center, recently returned from Colorado where he received a national certification as a state coordinator. He hopes to help bring more shooting programs to the state through the 4H program.
As the day was winding down, the students moved on to their final class, and in this case, it was forest ecology with Spenser Williams, a first-year field instructor.
Students first learned about ecotones, and in this case, this is the area between field and forest. On their hands and knees, they investigated the variety of species growing in the field compared to those that were in the forested section of the property.
Students took part in a short nature walk, learning about succession, photosynthesis, and various species of tree, to name a few.
To help kids get better acquainted with their surroundings, Williams blindfolded half the students and their sighted partner led them to a tree. The blindfolded student had to feel, smell, and in a couple cases, taste the tree (by their own choosing) and after being led away, go back and find their tree through their senses used.
Makayla Burgess noted that she was “looking” for the space she was in, how the branches felt, and that she didn’t go far before stopping at the tree.
With students getting anxious for the end of the day and their choice period, the two groups separated for a class quiz on forest ecology in order to choose who was going to have first pick. Students laughed and joked while answering the questions, most proving they had been paying close attention throughout the walk.
If you would like to learn more about the UMaine 4H Camp & Learning Center at Bryant Pond, visit http://umaine.edu/bryantpond/.
To read Part 1 of this series, visit http://www.rumfordfallstimes.com/featured-sports/story/055-mvms-part-1-25.