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Tour guide Pam Baillie of Starker Forests demonstrates how a tree's age can be estimated by looking at its branches during a Whitworth Elementary School fourth-grade field trip on Oct. 2. The outing was part of a forestry unit the classes are studying this fall.
October 08, 2013
BLODGETT -- At first, it seemed a frozen dragonfly would steal the show.
The unfortunate creature was caught in the branches of a young tree along Starker Forests forestry tour trail near Blodgett in Benton County.
It didn't take long for students in Whitworth Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Gretchen Schmoyer's class to find the insect and point it out.
"Mrs. Schmoyer, there's a frozen dragonfly in that one," said one student proudly pointing to the Western red cedar that had become the dragonfly's final resting place.
Slowly, but surely, tour guide Pam Baillie led the excited student back to focusing on the trees.
She split the class into three groups and assigned each to a different type of tree, asking them to study the tree closely.
"I would like you to look at your tree," she said. "What characteristics does your tree have? I want you to really look at it, the bark, the needles."
Trees were the topic of the tour -- as well as the environment they live in and forest management practices -- that Whitworth fourth-graders take every year. The field trip is part of a forestry unit the classes are studying this fall.
"All seven of our fourth-grade classes do it and we come up here over the course of four different weeks," Schmoyer said.
Each fall, Starker offers the tours free of charge to any school. The daylong field trip consists of a hike and an interpretive trail walk, with several stops for guides to point out characteristics of trees and the surrounding forest.
Baillie said the tours are organized by Dick Powell, Starker's education and outreach forester, in an effort to provide students with a hands-on learning adventure in the trees.
"His goal isto teach the kids observation skills while out in the woods, so when they are out in the woods they can observe what is around them," she said.
Students in Gretchen Schmoyer's fourth-grade class at Whitworth Elementary School try to figure out the correct answer to a question about trees during the field trip.
The first test of the day? Identifying the type of tree and estimating its age.
Baillie had the chilly -- it was in the 40s for the morning tour -- but eager students inspect and note differences in a Ponderosa pine, Western red cedar and a grand fir.
That seemed to be easy -- the students readily pointed out differences in the bark and needles of the three trees -- plus the aforementioned dragonfly.
Guessing the age? That was a little tougher.
"On the inside, if you cut it and count the circles?" asked one student.
Good answer, but Baillie took the question further.
"What if you don't have anything to cut it with?" Baillie asked.
"The height?" piped up another student.
That was as close as they could get before Baillie revealed the answer.
"It's called a whirl," Baillie said, pointing to a place on the nearby tree where four branches were growing out of the trunk at the same height. "You can count the whirls."
A tree grows one whirl a year, and the space between them shows a forester how much a tree has grown in a year.
That was just one of the many fascinating facts revealed to the class along the way.
"I thought it was just a bunch of trees at first," said fourth-grader Elijah Smith, noting he wasn't aware how many animals lived along the Starker tour trail. "I thought it was more or less a giant forest that they planted all the trees for like research and stuff."
Far from just trees, the tour revealed that a variety of insects, birds, deer, cougars and even bears live and contribute to the ecosystem.
Pam Baillie of Starker Forest gives Whitworth fourth-graders a lesson on fir cones during a school field trip.
Throughout the two-hour-long tour -- just the first half of the day -- Baillie added such terms as whirl, duff (the soil, leaves and pine needles that collect on the forest floor), snag (a dead tree left standing), and fir cone (typically fir trees are more common than pine in Oregon forests), to the student's vocabulary.
Powell would take them on a longer hike, where they would see evidence of the many animals that make the forest their home, such as footprints and an old beaver dam.
"We got to learn a lot of new stuff," said fourth-grader Morgan Smith. "My most favorite part was going down to see where the dam was."