Students in Asa Jacobs's fifth-grade class at William Kelley Schools in Silver Bay took their classes on the trail Sept. 26 for a field trip to Split Rock State Park in Two Harbors.

The students biked the 19.3 miles to and from Split Rock on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail and received some aid from the association that maintains the trail along the way.

Every spring, Jacobs takes his class on the trail to Beaver Bay as an end-of-the-year sendoff. After last year's trip, he spoke with Michelle Pierson of the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association at William Kelley's annual bike rodeo about the trips. Jacobs would end up renting bikes because many students didn't own working bikes or bikes with sufficient gears for the hilly landscape.

"That got my gears turning," Pierson said. "And soon when I heard about a grant opportunity from the Minnesota State Parks and Trails for youth engagement, I recommended we apply."

The Gitchi-Gami Association and William Kelley Schools applied and received a $1,000 grant to support the creation of a bike fleet for school use. With the money, the school purchased three new bicycles, four spare bike helmets and paid for food for the students, chaperones, teachers and state park employees who attended the field trip.

Fifth-graders in Asa Jacobs's class at William Kelley Schools touch a deer pelt while learning about ungulates of northern Minnesota with Split Rock and Gooseberry Falls State Parks naturalist Carolyn Rock. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Fifth-graders in Asa Jacobs's class at William Kelley Schools touch a deer pelt while learning about ungulates of northern Minnesota with Split Rock and Gooseberry Falls State Parks naturalist Carolyn Rock. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

On Sept. 26, after a safety and trail etiquette reminder from Pierson, the students made their way down to the state park. Along the way, students were encouraged to participate in a photo scavenger hunt to document the journey, taking photos of landmarks such as Lake Superior, the large Adirondack chairs outside Beaver Bay and a beaver statue.

Once at the park, students received instruction in tree identification and local wildlife from state park naturalists Carolyn Rock and Karen Updegraff. This was fifth-grader Dain Thompson's favorite part of the trip.

"I liked exploring the rocks and looking at the different trees," Thompson said.

Fellow fifth-grader Lilly Ernest also enjoyed the time at the park, but she wasn't looking forward to mostly uphill ride back to the school.

"It was fun coming down here, but once we get to Beaver Bay, it's going to get hard," Ernest said.

Pierson had a bike rack in the back of her pick-up truck in case any students couldn't make it back to the school.

"It's our contingency plan," Pierson said. "But Mr. Jacobs thinks everyone will make it. He sent letters home after the classes were announced in August to get the families on board and prepared. Imagine having 'Make sure to ride your bike' as pre-homework! That's a pretty fun."

In the end, the students made it back to the school no less worse for the wear.