Meeting a Tree


SMS Natural Resources Day

Over the course of three days this fall, 280 sixth graders from Summit Middle School ventured beyond the walls of their downtown Frisco facility to Keystone Science School’s small woodsy campus across the reservoir.The early October mornings were crisp but quite sunny, and everyone enjoyed striking views of Buffalo Mountain and the rest of the Gore Range. Over the course of each day, the various field groups tackled questions like “how do changes in environmental conditions affect what lives in an area?” and “What makes an ecosystem healthy?” while exploring the woods that they call home.

Using all of their powers of observation, students explored aspects of nature that they do not normally see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. If they can find a clothespin hidden by an instructor in the trees, what else can they find that they may not normally notice? Over the course of the day, many groups set out to identify trees in the area, but with the added challenge of removing their sight.  Dog walkers and trail runners passed blindfolded eleven and twelve year olds wandering around Summit County’s ever present Lodgepole Pine groves with their hands outstretched, a giggling, seeing-eyed peer leading the way. Not only was this an exercise in observing nature with their other senses, but it was also a matter of trust and team building.

These Summit Middle School sixth graders wrestled with the dilemma of human needs versus ecological needs when thinking about the health of our forests. They questioned why so many trees in the Rocky Mountains were dying, and found evidence of the Mountain Pine Beetle destruction that was taking place. Students touched and smelled the blue stained fungus left from the beetles in the tree cores that they bored out of sick trees; they found maze like structures on dead branches and wondered how the beetles entered the tree. They learned how Lodgepole Pine cones are serotinous, which means that they require an environmental factor, such as a forest fire, to release their seeds. Looking around at the sweeping landscape of Summit County, student discussions revealed that there are few places a forest fire could take place without affecting humans that live there. They postulated  that perhaps if there were controlled forest fires, new, healthy trees would be able to grow in place of the old, sick forest. In just five short hours, our Summit Middle School kids acted as current and future scientists, digging around in the dirt and the brush, wondering and questioning ways that we as people can act as stewards of the world, living alongside our natural environment.

Summit Foundation Blog Post