If you go out in the woods today, you might not find the teddy bears’ picnic — and that would be a good thing.
But you will definitely see the accomplishments of many Plumas County school kids who spent a series of “Trail Tuesdays” learning to create, maintain and improve the trails in their local Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms.
This year’s trail program was pretty “awesome,” according to Plumas Unified School District’s (PUSD) Outdoor Core coordinator Rob Wade and Mandy Beatty, trails director from the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) program.
“We had students from pretty much second grade and through junior-senior high school working to clear, maintain and even create their own trails,” Beatty said. “Some of the schools put students in teams with a ‘big buddy’ to help them. The kids did great, they crushed it!”
Students from Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy participated. Even the kindergartners helped.
“The kindergartners walked along and helped tamp down and groom the trails,” Beatty recalled with a chuckle. “They were pretty cute.”
Beatty also credited a fellow Outdoor Core partner, the Feather River Land Trust, for providing the Learning Landscapes settings that are close enough to walk to from each elementary school.
“This program (trail stewardship) is only possible with the Land Trust,” she said. “The students walked out to their Learning Landscapes and I put them right to work.”
According to Wade, the trails project helps students learn physical science lessons and the engineering design part of the Next Generation Science Standards, especially at the elementary-grade levels.
They learn these lessons in combination with safety protocols and handling actual trail-work tools such as a McLeod, a tool Beatty affectionately calls a rake on steroids.
“We’re talking about a big responsibility, these are tools not toys,” she said, explaining the students receive detailed instructions and wear safety gear, including helmets and gloves when they’re using the tools.
She said the students cleared out winter debris, improved drainage and did maintenance on their existing trails. In some cases, they mapped out where they wanted a new trail to go.
“Clearing the pathways, keeping water off the trail and people on it — that’s trail work at its finest,” the trails director said.
Beatty loves her job because she helps students and others start a project as a team and carry it through to the finish, having fun along the way. The biggest benefit is that students develop a sense of ownership, pride and stewardship for their environment, she added.
“Getting out and working on their own Learning Landscape area gives the kids enjoyment and stewardship at the same time,” Beatty remarked. “I really believe you can’t be an advocate for public lands until you experience them.”
New this year was a trail construction project for C. Roy Carmichael’s facility, a children’s forest designated by the Beckwourth Ranger District. The students were involved in creating that.
Quincy Elementary School students also built a native garden loop trail in their back garden, Beatty said, adding they designed the course of the trail to include a walk past a tree once struck by lightning because it looks “cool” and they want their trail to have interesting things to see.
Indian Valley Elementary students and Chester Elementary classes outdid themselves beautifying their own existing trails, according to Beatty.
She added that getting out and working physically in their Learning Landscapes outdoor classrooms is a special experience the students never forget. Each year, they come back as part of next year’s studies and feel a sense of pride and connection.
Teachers also love the Trail Tuesdays program.
“It was great! I would love to have Mandy here every day,” said Nancy Sipe who teaches second grade at QES.
Stephenie McMorrow, a fellow second-grade educator from QES agreed.
“It was a blast. The kids were still talking about it (afterwards),” she said. “I would really like to get out there every Tuesday, if possible.”