Events Hosted to Celebrate Appalachian Ohio National Public Lands Day

The Wayne National Forest and its partners came together to support four separate events for Appalachian Ohio National Public Lands Day from September 29 through October 1, 2017. The events were part of a coordinated regional effort to promote National Public Lands Day, a larger nationwide celebration to foster environmental stewardship and the use of public lands for education, recreation, and general health.

Smokey the bear meets a group of kids with smiles and high fives.

Area residents were invited to participate in four activities held on the Wayne National Forest. One gave free horse rides to more than 30 children at the Kinderhook Trailhead near Newport; it was organized with help from the Washington County Chapter of the Ohio Horseman’s Council. In another activity, 8 volunteers from the Buckeye Trail Association contributed 67 work hours constructing ¼ mile of new trail in the Stone Church area. A third event allowed 20 volunteers the chance to give back to their communities through a clean-up event at an illegal dumpsite on Forest lands near Nelsonville; Rural Action’s Zero Waste Program and Ohio University’s Community Engagement Programs within the Campus Involvement Center partnered with Forest to support the effort.

The largest event brought over 550 Lawrence County 4th and 5th grade schoolchildren to the Lake Vesuvius Recreation Area near Ironton for “Visit Your National Forest Day.” Rural Action, AmeriCorps, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Live Healthy Appalachia, Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District, and Southern Wayne Advocacy Council (SWAC) all worked with the Wayne National Forest to make it possible. The day of outdoor fun and learning began with an official proclamation from U.S. Representative Bill Johnson in recognition of the occasion. The proclamation was read aloud by Acting District Ranger Destiny Chapman to the assembled group of about 65 event coordinators. Afterward Jill McCleese of SWAC addressed the gathering:

“It’s a wonderful time for us all to come together to celebrate Appalachian Ohio National Public Lands Day. The kids will be arriving shortly, and some of them have never visited a national forest before. But we’ve all worked hard to plan a great day for them, and soon this whole area will be filled with the sound of their laughter. They’ll remember this experience for the rest of their lives, and it will teach them the value of public lands. The hard work of the Wayne National Forest and all of its partners is paying off and setting a precedence across the nation.”

A  Wayne National Forest Law Enforcement Officer Works with his dog.

The students rotated through 20 activity stations designed to teach environmental education, promote healthy outdoor lifestyles, and inspire responsible land stewardship. At one station they learned about wildfire prevention and recycling from Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl. At a station next to the historic Vesuvius Iron Furnace, the children heard a presentation about local life during the 1800s from Lawrence County Historical Society member Nicole Cox. Megan Norris from Live Healthy Appalachia led a station that encouraged the kids to play outside to stay active and healthy.

Several different activity stations were dedicated to environmental education. Wayne National Forest employees Ben Poling, Tyler Call, and Chris Fitton explained how to identify different trees and why leaves change color in the fall, while Ashley Kuflewski demonstrated animal tracking. SWAC member Judy Dumke talked about rare plants, and AmeriCorps member Jeremy Maple displayed wildlife pelts that kids were allowed to touch. Biologists from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were on site with a tank of live native fish.

The kids got particularly excited when they used butterfly nets to search a streambank for insects and small animals; they discovered spiders, crawdads, and even salamanders. The station was led by Joe Brehm from Rural Action, who also used the activity to explain the importance of pollinators for both wild and agricultural plants. “This activity is important because it gives kids the opportunity to explore in a safe environment with boundaries,” said Joe. “They get to discover nature for themselves.”

Because animals are important to the Wayne National Forest and its history, two other stations included them in live demonstrations. Local equine enthusiast Angie Walker brought two carts and miniature horses to show that exploring the Forest with horses can be extra fun. The kids also learned about how cart transportation was vital to the area prior to cars and railroads. At another station Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Luke Johnson presented his new canine partner, a German shepherd named Kelly who began her career just three months ago. The kids were very excited to meet Kelly and see her respond to German commands.

In today’s technology-driven world, many children are disconnected from both nature and local history. The “Visit Your National Forest Day” helped Lawrence County schoolchildren unplug for a day by turning their local district of the Wayne National Forest into an outdoor classroom. Fred Evans, Principal of the attending Rock Hill Elementary School, was enthusiastic about what his students gained from the day’s experiences. “Environmental education is important because it allows students to interact and become more familiar with their surroundings,” he said. “Several of the presenters also provided local history information, including how certain jobs like horseshoeing and ironmaking were performed during previous eras. The kids were infatuated with the stories and activities of the day. They found the outing to be both very entertaining and educational.”

The entire event staff felt compelled by the sheer exuberance of the children – running, playing, and even rolling downhill on their sides. “This kind of event is one of the most rewarding things about working in public service,” concluded Acting District Ranger Destiny Chapman at the end of the day. “We hope to do it again next year and involve even more schools, volunteers, and activity leaders. Please feel free to reach out to us if you are interested in future collaboration projects.”