Guest column/Fernwood Outdoor Days Program a tradition

Each year during the month of May, Fernwood State Forest abounds with hundreds of fifth-grade students who hike the trails, participate in interdisciplinary activities and experience new learning skills. This weeklong event is coordinated by the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District in conjunction with many partners and volunteers who work to ensure that the program delivers sound natural resources-based information to support school curriculums.

This year students from the Indian Creek, Buckeye Local and Steubenville school districts, as well as Bishop John King Mussio Elementary, Jefferson County Christian School and the Heart of Mary Home School participated in learning activities that were designed to provide an awareness of the land so that they may become informed citizens in the future. High school students from all of the local school districts were on hand volunteering to assist with the daily coordination. These students represented the Ohio State University Extension Service Junior Leadership program and Brandon Pendleton’s environmental studies classes at Indian Creek High School.

For 25 years, the JSWCD board, staff and partners have clocked many hours to encourage more than 19,000 students to make sound environmental decisions, and the board of supervisors of the JSWCD wishes to offer a public thank you and appreciation for their commitment to natural resources conservation.

Students began each day with a review of Newton’s Laws followed by the launching of their class rocket made from 2-liter pop bottles. Janine Yeske and Heather Keller of the Ohio State University Extension led the activity by which students were able to calculate the average velocity of miles-per-hour based on air pressure, time in flight and height. Beekeepers Joe and Cindy Rodak delighted the groups with the opportunity to hold a male bee called a drone, and students learned the value of the honey bee as a pollinator.

Louise Holliday of the JB Green Team reinforced the importance of recycling and litter prevention.

Justin Law, forest manager, with the ODNR’s Division of Forestry, showed the damage done in the forest by the emerald ash borer, an insect that feeds on the living portion of an ash tree, and the students were amazed by the wildlife display and habitat information presented by Jefferson County Wildlife Officer Craig Porter.

Wetland soils were viewed under a microscope with direction from Stephanie Vance, a faculty member at Eastern Gateway Community College, and her family, and members of the JSWCD staff coordinated an activity about how water use and water users have changed over time. A special appreciation goes out to the Jefferson County Agricultural Society, which offers the use of the fairground barns each year in the event of inclement weather.

Fernwood State Forest is a beautiful, 3,000-acre timberland located in our very own county and is open to the public for fishing, hunting, camping and hiking.

The forest is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, and the JSWCD values the partnership that allows for this environmental education event.

And, finally, we especially want to thank the fifth-grade educators, school principals and superintendents who realize the importance of pro-learning and recognize the opportunity for their students to be a part of this outdoor learning experience.

This team effort has caused many students to become aware of the natural amenities located in Jefferson County as well as think about global environmental issues.

On behalf of the board of the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District – which includes Chair Jodee Verhovec, Vice Chair Stephanie Vance, Secretary Mark Nelson, Treasurer Dick Franckhauser and staff Irene Moore, Wendee Zadanski, Brandon Andresen, Mike Sisson and Marilyn Ford – I extend my thanks and appreciation for all of those who have continually dedicated support of this annual program.

(Perkins is public relations chair of the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.)