Outdoor Classroom Chronicles- Part 2
BY JORGE BUENING, GENOA NFH
As the New Year rolled in it was time for classes involved in the outdoor classroom program to make their winter visit. The outdoor classroom is an area on the hatchery that has been restored to a native prairie and wetland ecosystem. This place allows students from various cultural backgrounds to coexist with nature and hopefully ignites a spark inside of them as to the wonders our natural world has to offer.
One of those classes is the 5th grade class of Susan Houlihan from Southern Bluffs Elementary School of the La Crosse School District. Susan has been instrumental in the foundation of this program and her class visits the hatchery during each of the seasons during which they are in session: fall, winter, and spring. During this, their winter visit, they learned that there is much more to the slow drab melancholy initially perceived in Wisconsin winters. Susan’s class learned about tracking animals in the snow and discovered on their own the tracks of: deer, coyotes, and even stumbled across an otter slide. The class then learned how their tracking skills can be useful in the art of fur trapping. From 330 conibears to coon cuffs the students learned from our maintenance mechanic and resident fur trapper Dan Kumlin the intricacies of fur trapping in the Mississippi River Basin. Dan even skinned a muskrat for the class. This process saw mixed reviews from the students. Finally, the students sat in their own isolated part of the wetland and took in what nature had to offer; allowing them to watch field mice glide across the snow, see bald eagles soar through the sky and hear the methodical tapping of a woodpecker probing a hollow tree trunk.
The 7th grade class of Tim Sprain from Lincoln Middle School also of the La Crosse School District came for a visit as well. They participated in the tracking and trapping classes but had an added “snack” at the end. Literally they learned how to properly clean, cook, and eventually eat a fresh rainbow trout. The class also took time to read from A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and compared what they were seeing to what he described in one of his winter passages.
It is Leopold’s land ethic idea that is the cornerstone of the curriculum that the outdoor classroom hopes to engage. The idea that we are simply borrowing the opportunity to experience nature from future generations and it is our duty to preserve what we have now for the future. Genoa National Fish Hatchery sees one very prominent way to achieve this goal and that is to provide a place for children to develop a relationship with the natural world. That is what the outdoor classroom is: a place for lasting memories, experiences, and relationships.