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Silver Bay fifth and sixth graders cruise through studies

Fifth and sixth grade students from William Kelley School snowshoe to Bird Hill School Forest for a day of non-traditional lessons in math, science and forestry. Photo by Ken Vogel.1 / 2
Student teacher Mike Krussow instructs fifth and sixth graders in the use of an increment borer. With this tool a small sample of wood is removed so the age of the tree can be determined. Photos by Ken Vogel  2 / 2

Ken Vogel

The fifth and sixth graders of William Kelly Elementary School in Silver Bay have been busy. They’re learning trigonometry, economics, plant biology and more using a practical approach and tools of the forestry trade.

Under the guidance of their teacher Tom Frericks and Lake County forester Justin Mayne, the students headed out to Bird Hill School Forest on Tuesday where they identified trees, computed cords of wood per acre, and learned to determine a tree’s height and age using clinometers and increment borers. These weren’t ordinary math and science classes, but they gave the kids a chance to stretch their legs and take textbook lessons into the real world. Ultimately, their efforts will benefit others in their school community, too.

“I am excited about this project” said Frericks. Originally planned for earlier this month the outing was postponed until this week due to inclement weather. The delay and heavy snows didn’t dampen Frericks’ spirits, however.

“This will add another dimension to the class; they will need to snowshoe in and out,” he said.

Mayne, who assisted in planning the outing, divided the students into groups. Each group sectioned off a 400 square foot parcel of land where they began “cruising timber.”

Cruising begins by identifying the species of trees within the designated area, or plot. The next step is to count the number of each species in the plot and determine the age of the trees by taking a small sample of a tree’s core using a tubular hand drill known as an increment borer. The borer screws into the center of the tree trunk so the sample can be removed.

Next, the height of the trees is determined using a triangulation tool known as a clinometer, which measures percentage of slope from the base of a tree to the top of a tree. By using a tape measure, the circumference of a tree can be measured. Once each tree’s girth is assessed, an average circumference is obtained, which is then used to calculate the actual area of the plot occupied by trees. By combining data from all the plots, calculations such as cords per acre of each species and an estimate of standing board feet can be determined, Mayne said.

The assessment, known as a forest inventory, is the cornerstone of forest management and used to determine forest resources, species management and wildlife management. Mayne said he’s an enthusiastic supporter of efforts to teach these skills to students.

“Any chance to teach this trade to kids is a great opportunity,” he said. “(The lessons) will be basic, but I wish I would have had something like this when I was in school.”

On Tuesday the students snowshoed about a quarter- mile to set up their plots and begin cruising. Their data will be compiled and given to Chris Belanger, the school’s wood shop instructor.

Later this winter, Belanger will choose which stands of trees will be felled and trucked back to the school to be processed using the school’s new sawmill. Eventually, the boards will supply the shop classes with wood for projects. On the day of the cruise Frericks said he was happy the weather cooperated.

“I am glad to see the kids are having fun and learning,” he said.