CHINA — Julia Barber took on the role of forester Friday as she stood among her fifth- and sixth-grade classmates in the woods behind their school, each of her peers representing a different type of tree assigned to them.

Morten Moesswilde, district forester for the Maine Forest Service, decided which of them to cut and which to leave where they stood. The long-bearded Moesswilde approved of Barber’s choices, praising her for considering not just the trees’ monetary value to humans when harvested, but also the value they might have to animals and the forest itself if left alone.

“You’re hired. Have you got your application in to the forest service yet?” he joked.

“A dead tree standing in the middle of the woods might not have much value to us. But if you’re a woodpecker, that tree is very valuable to you. A log on the forest floor has value for bugs and salamanders, in the space it provides for small things to live. It’s not always about the monetary value. As a forester, you need to make decisions about today’s forest, but also keep in mind what is going to happen in the future. That’s called a managed forest.”

Moesswilde was one of more than 34 volunteers to take to the woods and fields around China’s primary and middle schools Friday, China Forest Day, to help teach all of the roughly 600 students — in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade — about the forest and the plant and animal life it holds.

Elaine Philbrook teaches third and fourth grades in China and organizes the day with Anita Smith, a former teacher at the school who now organizes Forest Day as a volunteer. Philbrook said the hands-on exercises in the fields and woods also are tied into classroom lessons, involving mathematics, science and English. Students write entries in their nature journals every time they’re in the woods, for example.


Learning stations in the woods included lessons about how worms benefit the soil, inventories of plant and animal life, how to assess a polluted site economically, how to harvest trees sustainably, how to read animal tracks, fire safety with Smokey the Bear, how to analyze soil, and many others.

It’s not just about instilling knowledge, either; it’s also about instilling a love and appreciation of nature, organizers said.

First-grader Logan Wilson listened to local volunteer Caragh Fitzgerald, who had a square bucket filled with soil, potato peels, damp newspaper and other items. Fitzgerald explained how the red worms in the bucket recycle things that die on the ground by eating them and breaking them down into nutrients.

Wilson said there are only two things about the woods he doesn’t like.

“The one thing I don’t like are ticks,” Logan said. “I like everything else. Oh, and never go in the poison ivy. I have so much fun in the woods.”

Third-grader Lacey Art held a thermometer to check the temperature of soil in different areas of the forest and the air above it as part of the “Field, Forest and Stream” presentation by Pat Maloney, state coordinator for Project Learning Tree. Art said that well before lunchtime she had already learned about ticks, how to read animal tracks on the ground and how to analyze soil temperatures.


She said her favorite part of the day was “walking around the forest and seeing all the stuff you can find.”

Smith, a Maine Master Naturalist, said planning the event and lining up volunteers takes about a year.

It started in 2000, and until recently it was held every other year. Friday’s event was the first in three years in the 50 acres of woods, which have trails open to the public for hiking and several wooden outdoor classroom pavilions, many built with donated materials and labor. Improvements to the woods and outdoor classrooms also are funded by grants and by sales of lumber harvested every few years on the property. The China forest even has its own Facebook page.

The outdoor classrooms include one raised wooden platform built encircling a massive pine tree, where Phil Dow, a forester from Albion, his beard even longer and bushier than Moesswilde’s, held court with rapt audiences of students and explained the history of logging in Maine.

He said the history of logging in this country goes back to the 1600s, starting with the Pilgrims. And he explained how Maine logger Alvin Lombard invented the Lombard Steam Log Hauler, which revolutionized how felled trees were removed from the forest; and that either Lombard or Benjamin Holt is credited for inventing tracks for vehicles, such as those now common on bulldozers.

The Lombard Log Hauler, one of which is in the Maine State Museum, could pull 20 sleds of logs behind it, compared to one sled for a team of horses.


Philbrook said there were 34 stations where volunteers taught students. She said many volunteers brought other helpers with them, so they had many more than 34 volunteers in the woods Friday.

While many are experts in their fields, that’s not required. Many were just parents who wanted to come help and spend time with their children.

Philbrook said they welcome and encourage new volunteers, as they have just barely enough to run all the stations for the roughly 600 students, in grades pre-kindergarten to eight, in the daylong event.

“The one thing you have to be is passionate,” she said.

In the “map your kingdom” station, students put a hula hoop on the ground, and each student drew a sketch of the plants and animals found in their kingdom within the hula hoops. They then went around to visit others’ kingdoms and explained to the other pupils what they found.

Smith said other school and town forests, many modeled after China’s, have been created elsewhere in Maine, including Litchfield, Portland, Gorham and Belfast.


Retired teacher Linda McKee, of Wayne, walked the forest Friday checking out the site and learning stations, to see if Wayne might be able to create something similar in its own woods.

Students at one station, overseen by Smith’s husband, volunteer Troy Smith, from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, using strips of litmus paper, had to test soil taken from several parts of a theoretically contaminated site, the former home of the make-believe Acme Lemonade Corp. They had to find the contamination while staying within the budget for the project. Students played roles including those of a geologist, a driller, a sample analyst and a project manager.

Eighth-grader Adam Elsasser, in the role of the project manager, said he learned from the testing that all the soil had at least a little bit of acid in it.

Troy Smith said the litmus paper would turn a certain shade of pink when they found the contaminated soil — which, just before moving on to the next learning station, they successfully did.

Adam extended his hand to his fellow students who were in the roles of his customers on the “job.”

“Nice doing business with you,” he said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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