LAKE MCMURRAY — Conway School eighth graders saw foxglove and ferns, newly sprouted trees and a deer climbing a hill in the distance — all during a field trip Thursday.
During a 1.5-mile walk in the woods near Lake McMurray, the students got to take in the greenery and fresh air during a lesson that touched on the science, economics, policy and natural history of the land, owned and forested by Ken Osborn.
“Out in the woods you can find some pretty interesting things,” Osborn said as he showed the students the remnants of train tracks and trees logged by hand more than 100 years ago. “There are many stories here.”
Osborn has been leading Conway students on walks through his expanse of woods since 1997. He said he does it because he feels a duty to share his knowledge as a forester.
“I think if you’ve got knowledge you can share that you’ve learned from your career or your life, it’s your civic duty to share it,” he said.
During the tour, Osborn told the students about policy such as the Growth Management Act, the ecology of how healthy forests are related to healthy salmon, and how forests can help in the fight against climate change.
“Using wood is good,” Osborn said. “When you build a house with wood, that’s carbon coming out of the atmosphere.”
Conway School eighth grade science teacher Ron Haywood said the tours with Osborn are an important way to round out his students’ educations.
“What Ken does is something I can’t do in a classroom,” Haywood said. “I can’t come close to giving as much knowledge as Ken does. It’s extremely beneficial to their education.”
With the eighth graders poised to head into high school, Haywood said the tour is a way to wrap up the various life and physical science topics the students have been learning since the sixth grade.
“They just finished the Kids on the Beach program, so they’ve seen a marine ecosystem, biodiversity and that important resource decisions are based on science — and that gets reinforced on our forest trip,” Haywood said.
It also gives them a chance to hear from scientists — Osborn was joined by forestry colleagues Jim Unsell and Jamie Hillery — and think about career possibilities.
“You guys are at a point where pretty soon you’re going to be figuring out what you want to do with your lives,” Osborn said.
Unsell and Hillery helped showcase some of the science and trade skills used in forestry and explained how modern technology is changing the industry.
“There’s so much fieldwork that used to take a person days to do ... and now drones can fly grids to do some of those things more quickly,” Hillery said. “They are a game-changer.”
During the tour, Osborn showed a mostly brown, recently cut section of his land and then a neighboring section cut a few years ago that is now lush with greenery, wildflowers and young Douglas fir trees a few feet tall.
“The forest ecosystem is very dynamic,” he said. “It changes right before your eyes.”