New Nature Trail To Be Accessible To Public
By Rick Hiduk
A nature trail behind Towanda High School (THS) that was made possible by a $4,000 Bradford County Conservation District grant awarded in April will soon reach a milestone of completion that will render it accessible to both students and the public.
According to THS health and physical education teacher Keith Brown, the idea for the Black Knight Nature and Fitness Trail, which will feature exercise stations and an outdoor classroom area, was in the planning stages for several years. In addition to the funding needed for the trail, Brown explained, he was lucky enough to find the right group of students who shared his interest and were willing to help construct it.
That group was actually comprised of some of the 32 students who took a survival class taught by Brown as a phys ed elective and participants in the STAR (Student Transition and Recovery) program, which provides community outreach opportunities and tutoring for students with academic and disciplinary issues.
“It wasn’t strictly about the survival course,” Brown related. “It’s about getting kids out into nature and walking around.”
Brown also received assistance from THS science teacher John Pierson, who helped to design the trail to include elements that would fit into the school’s environmental science curriculum.
“There are various ecological themes that we teach each year, (such as) how humans affect the environment, the process of photosynthesis, invasive species, and also a little about tree identification,” Pierson explained. “By having a natural classroom, it puts the students right in the middle of what they are learning about.”
Pierson reached out to STAR coordinators Carla Dieg and Christopher Talley, who enlisted the help of eight Bradford County teens, two of whom were also THS students, to help move brush from the intended trail and spread mulch on it.
At its peak, Brown noted, there were as many as 40 students involved with the project. Three STAR participants and as many THS graduates have continued to work on the trail since the 2010-11 school year came to an end.
“It keeps them busy,” said Talley, who related that many of the students associated with STAR come from homes where both parents are working during the day. The trail project, he added, gets the youths out into nature and increases their awareness of the importance of community service.” Talley enjoyed the opportunity as well.
“I thought it was a great idea,” he said of the nature and fitness trail. “After 22 years in the military, I liked dealing with nature. And it gives the kids more of an outward-bound experience than sitting in a classroom with paper and pens.”
Class of 2011 members Colin Blemle and Matt Rice were among the students who returned to the school after graduation to continue working on the trail. Rice indicated that he feels personally connected to the project and hopes to return to it whenever he is able.
“I figure that we put all of this work into it, I might as well plan to use it,” he stated.
THS principal Dennis Peachey related that the original plans called for a longer trail, but the students and adults involved with the project found that abundant wild rose bushes between the school and Route 220 were difficult to move. The focus shifted to getting as many of the fitness and academic elements as possible into place before the beginning of the new school year, with plans to expand the trail as time and manpower allow. Talley also expressed an interest in maintaining involvement with the project via the STAR program.
Highlights of the finished trail will include a balance beam, parallel bars, an abdominal workout station, pull-up bar, and an agility station. The outdoor classroom, which will feature benches fashioned from telephone poles arranged amphitheater-style on a hillside, is one of the next elements of the trail on the construction schedule. The school’s technical education department will produce signage for the trail that will explain how to use each exercise station.
By the start of school on Monday, Aug. 29, Brown hopes to have enough of the trail completed that the public can access the area. “We’re hoping that people will use it,” he stated, adding that it would be nice to see students bring family members to see the trail.
Peachey noted that the trail will be open to the public during non-classroom hours, primarily in the evening and on weekends and throughout upcoming summers.