Port Blakely, the Seattle timber company, understood this fact decades ago and started an environmental education program that has allowed Washington fourth graders to tour the woods and learn about the natural environment. The program just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In the past quarter century, the Port Blakely environmental education program has conducted 2,750 guided tours, with 65,721 students and 14,066 adults tagging along. Additionally, Port Blakely runs similar programs in Oregon and New Zealand.
Anna Scheibmeir was once one of those fourth-graders on the mile-long wooded trail off of Delphi Road.
Scheibmeir, 20, is a native of Centralia who now attends Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. When she was in fourth grade at Oakview Elementary, though, Scheibmeir was a self-described know-it-all on the education trail.
At Tuesday’s luncheon she vividly recalled her experience from a decade ago. Noting that she had more outdoors experience than almost all of her peers, Scheibmeir remembered that she was excited to tell her classmates everything about everything. As it turns out though, she wound up being wrong about most of it and had to learn on the fly right along with her peers.
“That’s the beauty of this program is that no matter what your background, you are guaranteed to learn something new,” said Scheibmeir who, after 10 years, was able to laugh at the gaffes of her younger self.
…Scheibmeir added that the walk in the woods tours are perhaps most important to urban students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to get out in the pungent air beneath the canopy of trees, even if it is a second generation reproduction forest planted exclusively for timber harvest.
“I think having a chance where students can come out and not only walk around but have a great guide is important,” said Scheibmeir. “I have a ton of respect for it.”
Once the kids are out among the trees, the benefits extend far past just forests, said Kelly Stanley, environmental education coordinator for Port Blakely.
No matter what school she works with, Kelly says the goal is not just to show the students the forest, but to open their eyes to the natural world in full, including wildlife, wetlands and insects.
The main takeaway cannot be catalogued by genus or species though.
“I’ve had how many thousands of students on this tour, and I think the takeaway is joy,” said Stanley. “At the end of the day I just think there is a joy of being outside.”
Kelly’s husband, Court Stanley, is Port Blakely’s president of forestry and said the benefits of the program to the company are long term.
“We need a social licence to work in the industry of forestry,” said Court Stanley. He believes the environmental education program does just that by getting fourth-graders excited about the forest.
It might seem counterintuitive to teach children about the natural world within the parameters of a forest grown specifically to be cut down, but the Stanleys say the kids come to learn and appreciate the cycle that creates local jobs that curate useful wood products right outside their backdoors.
“We never cut more than we grow,” said Court Stanley. “We have more trees now than we did 100 years ago.”