“What does it mean to be a Trail Blazer?”
That was the question posed to the group of children assembled after school in second-grade teacher Lorna Fake’s classroom at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta this past Friday, April 8. The new after-school club, called the Trail Blazers and consisting of a dozen second-graders, was having its second meeting since its inception on April 1.
Hands shot up as the children settled in with their healthy snacks of crackers, cheese, apples, and bananas.
“Having manners,” said one boy.
“Not littering,” said another student.
“Yes – having earth manners as well as people manners,” said Sarah Gladu, director of education at the Damariscotta River Association, who was leading the discussion along with Fake and Great Salt Bay Community School kindergarten teacher Kristie Houghton.
Gladu, Fake, and Houghton are the three women in charge of overseeing the nature-focused club designed to give children “a chance to explore the GSB woods, streams, and wetlands, and clear trails,” as a note from the school to parents reads.
After giving a short lesson on clipper safety, Gladu joined in leading the eager children into the woods behind the school, where they were divided into three groups – one for each adult to supervise – and proceeded to delineate trails with sticks and pine cones as well as clip back branches protruding onto their newly defined trails.
“I like being outside in the woods,” said 8-year-old Maggie Thompson as she moved a large stick into place along the trail she was working on. “I live right next to the woods.”
“Who knows what sort of tree this is?” Fake asked the kids, pointing to a deciduous tree covered in dead leaves. “It starts with ‘b’.”
“Beech!” came the exuberant response after a few tries.
Fake gave a little pruning lesson to the children in her group: “Cut it slightly at an angle,” she said to a boy trimming a branch.
Further down the trail, in a particularly waterlogged section, Houghton and her group had created a “corduroy path” – made of thin logs laid down side by side, perpendicular to the trail – to walk over and keep one’s boots dry.
The children who had made the corduroy path were clearly pleased with their handiwork. In fact, it was apparent during this afternoon in the woods that the children were happy to be outside, in nature, exploring and doing tasks that made them feel useful.
“I like seeing children being physically active, working happily together, and discovering natural ‘treasures’ and investigating them,” said Fake. “The enthusiasm the children bring to Trail Blazers is contagious.”
“The Trail Blazers program is a way for us to get kids outside and help them develop a sense of comfort with being in the woods and use their natural curiosity to learn about the natural environment,” said Gladu. “We know that kids who spend time outside develop an appreciation for the places they come to know intimately and this can translate to caring for the environment in the larger sense when they are older.”
The Trail Blazers will meet two more Friday afternoons before the end of the school year – on April 29 and May 6.
“I would love to continue the program next year,” said Gladu of the pilot program. “I love that it is a partnership between the DRA and the school that offers kids an opportunity to explore the woods without structure that inhibits their natural curiosity and interest in the natural environment around them.”