Fox Forest on the education frontline

AmeriCorps on the Frontline member Jeanne Johnson led twenty-four young naturalists from North Elementary School on a 2.6 mile hike through Fox Forest Wildlife Management Area near the Division of Natural Resources [DNR]. Before students started the hike, they met Naturalist Jim Fregonara, Forester Josh Simons, and Police Officer Greg Smith who told them what they would need to study in school and college if they wanted to work for the DNR.

Each intrepid young trekker had a backpack with a topographical map of Fox Forest, an animal track pamphlet, a small notebook, and a DNR pencil. The group divided into five teams led by Jodi Calkins, William Gartmann, Jeanne Johnson, Chris Storrick, and me.

Mr. Fregonara stood at the entrance to the path where he pointed out the large hairy roots of poison ivy vines and warned the student to look for the three-leafed plant when they walk in the woods. Both Mr. Fregonara and Mr. Simons moved along the path calling our attention to the signs of animal habitat hidden in the woods and hints about the health trees and condition of the forest.

As they walked along Pond Loop Trail, students were writing everything they noticed in their notebooks. When they reached the pond, it was time to pull out their boxed lunches and take a rest. The lunches were provided by Davis Medical Center thanks to Jim Severino who gave each hiker a sandwich, fruit, snacks, and water for the adventure.

After lunch we set out for the Overlook on the north end of Fox Forest. The young hikers made good progress toward their destination except for some confusion at one of the junctions in the trail where a sign was missing.

We stopped only to check out the tadpoles and frogs in a huge mud puddle along the path. Miss Jeanne had made sure her students in the Kump Education Center’s STREAM Program were prepared with vocabulary words for studying ecology before they left school. We used scientific vocabulary words noting the ecosystem for amphibians in these vernal pools. Science can be such muddy fun.

When we reached the high Overlook, we could see the Tygart Valley River and the town of Elkins. We noticed how much human habitat changes the natural environment, and we wondered how all the small creatures in Fox Forest would survive.

We were glad to share this opportunity to learn about these small wonders of our mountain ecosystem.