SEMBACH, Germany -- What better way to learn about nature than to view it first hand?

That's exactly what 25 Sembach Middle School students did April 12 with the help of U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Directorate of Public Works Environmental Office and local forest masters when the group hiked a nature trail to celebrate Earth Day.

"It is essential to teach young people about the natural environment around us," said Claudia Weber, an environmental engineer with DPW for 14 years. "Bringing them outside in the forest areas will help raise awareness for the animals, plants and insects that live there."

Many people think that recycling garbage is being environmentally conscious, but that is only a part of the issue, Weber said.

"We recycle to save natural resources, which helps our environment. But what is our environment?" she asked. "Our intent is to give the children a basic understanding of our environment, and how they can preserve it."

Special guests Werner Zell and Joachim Kunz with the Otterberg Forrest Agency both became forstmeisters because of their understanding and appreciation of nature.

"I really enjoy teaching the children about the environment because they will educate our future generations about natural resources and sustainability," said Zell, a forstmeister for 40 years. "We need to give children the understanding by teaching them from an early age the responsibility of respecting and taking care of our environment."

The sustainability of our forest ecosystems is vitally important, said Kunz, a 30-year forstmeister and a participant of the Forest Education Program since 2001.

"The younger the children are, the better to learn and appreciate nature," he said. "At this age, they have natural curiosity and have fun learning."

The children began their journey by playing a team-building "string ball" game, where they stated their names and favorite animals before using several strings to lift, carry and deposit a wooden ball onto a stick as a group.

After performing the group event, they began their forest discovery hike learning about deer, birds, rabbits, hedgehogs and insect habitats along the way.

For 10-year-old Lance, the Earth Day hike was exciting.

"This was really fun and interesting," said the fourth grader, who said lions were his favorite animal. "The best part was seeing a deer antler up close."

The group also spied a real deer while hiking up and down the nature trail, which was challenging and fun, he said.

"I like nature," said fellow fourth-grader, Tatum. "I never went on a nature trail before, but I really like it," said the 10 year old, whose favorite animal is apple-head Chihuahuas. "Maybe I can explore it more in the summer with my family."

After the three-hour hike, the students received event certificates from USAG RP Deputy Garrison Commander Deborah Reynolds, who participated in Earth Day events with Sembach Middle School students for three years.

"These children are our future generation, and therefore it's vital they develop an appreciation for our planet and a desire to preserve it," she said. "This was a fun and interesting way to learn important lessons about our environment outside of the classroom, and I'm glad I was a part of it."