Donated road project to enhance outdoor learning

Ever since it was established during the 2017-2018 school year, Kalama School District’s Natural Resources program has been introducing high school students to forestry-related careers while providing hands-on science learning opportunities. Now, thanks to a community donation and the efforts of school staff, those opportunities are about to multiply.

Last week, crews began carving out an access road on district-owned property just north of the middle school/high school. The project work, which was donated to the district, is expected to wrap up in a few short weeks (weather permitting). The goal of the project, according to Kalama School District Superintendent Eric Nerison, is to expand the use of the 30+ acre forested property in ways that support real-world STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning. 

“We want to make it easier for more classes, K-12, to access the property,” he said. “Long-term, the goal is to have an outdoor classroom and a complete trail system for district and community use.”

For the district’s Natural Resources program, the improved property access is a game-changer. 

“Prior to the pandemic, the program was in full swing, but limited access to natural areas near our schools certainly limited what we could do,” said Nerison. “Now, with the completion of this project, we’ll really be able to take the program to new heights and broaden the range of topics we teach.”

Chris Stone, a Kalama High School science teacher and head of the Natural Resources program, worked with officials from the City of Kalama and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for several months to plan and permit the project. 

With project work finally underway, Stone said he’s excited to see new educational opportunities come alive. 

“Students will be able to get outside and do hands-on learning: measure trees, learn how to thin property, use hand tools and learn about invasive species,” he explained. “By giving students the experience of an outdoor class, suddenly they have more avenues for learning and can be more successful.

“They’ll be able to see, first-hand, the importance of managing a forest, rather than just letting it go,” he added. “Having five or six acres of Himalayan Blackberry might be natural, but it’s not very biologically diverse and it’s not native to our area. Our goal is to have a working forest that’s good for our students and the community, but also something that’s good for the environment.”

The timber harvested during the development of the access road will provide an opportunity for students to observe how the forest management process plays out from planning to harvesting, and how it impacts our local economy.

Classes from all grade levels will be able to take full advantage of the new access road by next school year.

The project donor has asked to remain anonymous.