GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Orange and red colored leaves fell gingerly off the trees and lined the newly built environmental trail located near Dickhaeuter Lake on the Grafenwoehr Training Area. The picturesque setting was the perfect backdrop for more than 40 Grafenwoehr Elementary students during an educational outing, Oct. 1.

The activity was a joint venture with support from the Department of Public Works' Environmental Division, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the German Bundesforst.

The students were the first organized group to explore part of the two-kilometer trail.

Led by Caecilia Meier, environmental protection specialist for DPW, they began their trek through the woods and learned about various species of trees and leaves along the way.

Nearly 300 meters into the hike, Meier stopped abruptly.

"Something has been here before us," she said to the children, pointing to fresh animal tracks. "Can you guess what it was'"

"A deer," yelled a voice from the crowd.

"A dog," said another.

"A monster," said a third.

It was not a monster, but in fact a wild boar. Meier explained the shape of the track tipped her off and the newly informed students began their own detective work, looking for more clues.

Informational boards that surveyed conservation and environmental topics strategically lined the trail. Children answered numerous questions about native animals that live in the woods, including owls, squirrels and hares, and learned animal fun facts.

"We learned about solitary bees," said Santi Hurtado, a third-grader. "They work alone."

"And we saw a bat," said third-grader MaKayla Anderson, excitedly. "That was my favorite part."

Additionally, students discussed the function of trees and plants and collected pine cones to study.

"This one is a fir cone," said third-grader Jonathon LaPrade, holding up his specimen. "It's different than a pine cone."

Halfway through the trek, students joined forces with the German Bundesforst to learn about logging and deadwood. A few lucky students tried their hand at sawing wood with the help of Forest Master Volker Goebel.

The outing ended with a fishing tutorial at the lake, conducted by the Hans Hathaway, FMWR hunting and fishing coordinator, and volunteer Kurt Loh.

The three-hour exploration taught children about environmental stewardship and allowed them to experience nature intimately. Nature put on her finest attire and welcomed the students in to breathe the crisp autumn air.

Meier believes this hands-on learning approach will impact the children and hopefully lead them to live a more environmentally sound existence.

"The children are able to breathe the air, feel the rain, touch the trees and smell the needles," said Meier. "All of those impressions spark their senses and they will remember what they learned. And hopefully gain respect for nature."

Although the theme of the day was education, most students, including first-grader Jaime Rubio, focused on the adventure of exploration.

"This kind of stuff makes school fun," he said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16