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Trail of Trees: Arbor Day planting leads to a restored forest

Students using pallets to build bug hotels; photos by Francis Smith

Students using pallets to build bug hotels; photos by Francis Smith

As fall creeps in and the growing season fades, the Maryland Forest Service still has one thing in mind: planting trees.

From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, the Forest Service continually partners with the community in its mission of getting trees in the ground. Whether on public or private land, shovels are always in action and a multitude of species are finding new homes with the help of volunteers, interns, parents, students, teachers and staff.

However this collaboration doesn’t stop once the plantings are done.

One such effort is happening in Queen Anne’s County, thanks to Centreville Middle School teacher Kimberly Thomas-Roenigk and her dedicated students. Thomas-Roenigk’s budding foresters first got their hands dirty with an Arbor Day/Earth Day planting, arranged through the Forest Service’s county office and its Urban and Community Forestry program, TREE-Mendous. But the roots were just being set for her students’ arboreal education.

By next spring, the 7th graders of Centreville will be turning the forest stand and trail behind the school into a mini arboretum. Below, Kim discusses her background, environmental education and Centreville Middle’s Trail of Trees.

How long have you been teaching? This fall marks my fifth year of teaching at Centreville Middle. I currently teach 7th-grade life science with my teammate Patrick Linz.

Have you always wanted to teach science? Environmental education has always been a passion of mine. I have my parents and previous teachers to thank for that. They instilled in me the beauty of the natural world and the importance of helping it at a young age.

What are some projects you have been involved with, including during your own education? I volunteered through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Stream Waders program to complete water-quality testing and volunteered at the Salisbury Zoo as well as an aviary during college. Another teacher and I began an ecology corps at our school about three years ago. We helped build the rain garden at Mill Stream Park. I join the Kent Island beach cleanups effort at least once a year and I work with the Corsica River Conservancy.

What projects did you organize last school year? Each spring I organize an Arbor Day/Earth Day celebration for our 7th graders. Our focus this year was the plants and animals within the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and how they all depend on each other and contribute to the estuary’s health. Students built bug hotels to attract pollinators and learned how other species depend on them. We also reseeded a wildflower field and planted native trees to attract more pollinators and other species to the area. One of our long-term goals is to reduce runoff into Gravel Run, which feeds into the Corsica River.

Are there other folks that collaborate with you on field projects? I always try to collaborate with the community on any field project. Bringing in experts helps students make that real-world learning connection and gets them more engaged in the activity. In the past I have worked with Adkins Arboretum and Environmental Concern, to name a couple. There have also been countless parent volunteers, and our Parent Teacher Association is always immensely supportive.

What do students have to look forward to this academic year? Our students are going to focus their service-learning project around the restoration of our school nature trail. Each student will adopt a native tree along the path and create a learning station that focuses on that particular tree. Each station will be marked and be part of a scavenger hunt. Students will develop informational pamphlets and maps for participants to follow.

Our students and current Ecology Corps Club members will complete the majority of the work. I hope to enlist some volunteers from within the community as well. We will also be working on a project with Washington College that will allow students to collect tree data that can be analyzed over the next several years. The focus will be on the use of the tagged trees as bio-indicators of climate change.

trail5When did you first think about turning the existing forest area behind the school into a nature trail? I cannot take credit for creating the trail behind our school. A former teacher, George Radcliff, spearheaded the formation of our wonderful nature areas over 15 years ago. Mr. Radcliff and the ecology club maintained them, but with the changes in staff and the loss of the club over the past several years, they have been underutilized and difficult to sustain. The trail became my “baby” during my first year. I hope to restore it to its former beauty so that students and other community members have more opportunities to connect with nature.

How long is the trail and what is the expected completion date? I would like to restore the entire two-mile trail but my focus this year is on the half-mile native tree trail, which I hope to complete by May 2017.

What will be specifically identified on trail? I am working with the Maryland Forest Service to narrow down a list of 25-30 top native trees and shrubs. We want to focus on those that play a large part in supporting the surrounding ecosystem. Although we are choosing the sites, it will be up to students to correctly identify and research the importance of each tree or shrub. I feel we are just beginning to unearth the opportunities that can be developed on the trail over the next several years.


Article by Francis Smith—forestry technician.
Appears in Vol. 19, No. 4 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, fall 2016.