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Students have a way to provide, right at their fingertips

There are nearly 200 acres of trees spread out over Lake Holcombe School’s property and to agriculture education/ science teacher Kent Dorney’s way of thinking, that property is just itching to be officially designated as a school forest.

“Registering that would provide us a lot of free stuff through the state,” said Dorney.

Included in the services, would be specialists in forestry on call for school use, as well as DNR connections. Making up the 200 acres of land, is a 79-acre parcel off East Lake Shore Drive; 80 acres near the Birch Creek Town Hall; and 32 acres on the school grounds.

“They vary in lots of different types of trees that we have there,” said Dorney. “Not a lot has been done the last couple years. There are some things that are established, but they need to be continued in order for the school forests to be productive for our school.”

Some lofty goals Dorney wants to potentially accomplish with the school forests, include starting forest management courses, tree surveying, species identification and making data charts. He’d also like to address the former logging plan from 1995, which is past the date when the trees needed to be logged off.

“Some of those trees are very mature and they need to be logged, they’re falling over,” said Dorney.

Through that, Dorney wants to re-establish property lines for the school’s forests, to be more active in the woods and create signage to better manage the school’s assets. He also plans to take the potential money from the logging efforts, to create an environment on the school campus for students of all ages to experience things they haven’t before.

“I love doing outdoor stuff, obviously,” said Dorney.

The last two seasons, Dorney has worked with students in maple syrup production on the grounds, in a step-by-step process of what trees to tap and when.

“I’d like to be able to create a little sugar shack – not necessarily to boil – but to be able to store,” said Dorney, “to show them a process one step further, right here on campus.”

As part of his “outdoor classroom,” Dorney says he wants to purchase 20-30 apple trees for a small orchard, where he could teach high school kids about grafting, ground control and fencing methods. In that way, he would also invite the elementary students to join in and make cider.

“I’ve talked to other teachers on how they would love to be able to use those apples for different projects…so all that would not have to be purchased by them,” said Dorney. “Kids would be able to experience these things from kindergarten or 4K, all the way up to 12th grade.”

The first step in Dorney’s plans (after he received school board approval June 15), is to file an application with the DNR. Then, the land will need to be surveyed and bids needed for logging the properties.

Dorney says he wants to make his curriculum hands-on, interactive and focused on the outdoors.

“Hopefully, with some of this logging, I’d be able to provide that for all of our students,” he said.

He’s also expanding the hydroponics capabilities in the school greenhouse and pulling away from soil growing this fall.

“That way, we could provide fresh produce of leafy greens and things like that for our school, right here in the classroom, to be used in the cafeteria,” said Dorney, adding that the extra can be given to the local food pantry. “So, we can grow with hydroponics year round.”

Dorney says he is excited to show kids what land can provide them, right at their fingertips.

“The more I’ve been in that classroom,” he said, “these kids are longing for these things…these kids, even though they live in Holcombe, have not fully experienced some of those things.”