The 34-acre forest, adjoining Clearview Elementary School in the Sherburne County town of Clear Lake, has been part of the school for 40 years.
By John Reinan Star Tribune MAY 6, 2017
Nick Snavely helped his daughter, Hazel, standing, and Anna Sieg planted a tree in the Clearview Elementary School forest on Arbor Day.
When the students in Andrea Coulter’s fifth-grade class finished their state tests this year, she asked them how they wanted to celebrate. A pizza party? Root beer floats? A game day?
No, the kids said. They’d rather hang out in the forest.
The 34-acre forest, adjoining Clearview Elementary School in the Sherburne County town of Clear Lake, has been part of the school for 40 years. It’s one of 130 school forests statewide that have been created under a Minnesota law that allows schools to acquire land for use as outdoor classrooms.
But the forest had been little used for decades. Overgrown with brush and littered with dead trees, it held little attraction for the students and teachers at Clearview.
That changed last year after a visit from a state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officer who asked Coulter to help bring it back to life.
“They took me on a walk and showed me the forest,” she said. “It needed a lot of work, but it was absolutely stunning. You could see the potential. And I thought, this absolutely needs to be shared with our children.”
More than 30 residents attended a kickoff meeting last fall, and the cleanup began. Students, staff, community members, Scout troops and church groups pitched in at twice-monthly bushwhacking sessions throughout the winter. More than 100 people showed up for a s’mores and stories outing.
Meanwhile, Coulter and other teachers began taking the students out to learn about nature.
“We’ve seen voles, mice, rabbits,” she said. “We figure there’s a coyote out here because we found the den and you can hear him in the evenings.
“One day we were out and I heard this blood-curdling scream. A girl said, ‘There’s blood all over the snow!’ I explained that an owl must have gotten a rabbit. It’s the circle of life.”
On Arbor Day, the school held a 40-year celebration of the forest. Dozens of area residents, along with students, planted more than 800 saplings provided by the DNR: bur oak, red oak, jackpine and white cedar.
It’s been doubly enjoyable for Nick Snavely, who is both a DNR area manager and the father of Hazel, a student in Coulter’s class.
“The kids love being outdoors,” he said. “It’s fun to see their faces.”
The forest’s resurgence is Clearview’s own “Field of Dreams.” Said Coulter: “If you build it, they will come.”