Youth visited old-growth last Friday.
Students from St. Joseph School explored a portion of Hearts Content on Friday with the guidance of officials from the Allegheny National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station.
The trip is an annual event, according to organizer Barb McGuinness, research station environmental literacy coordinator.
Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry
In the photo above, St. Joseph School students Katie Beyer and Gavin Labowski examine the needles from a white pine at Hearts Content. In the photo at right, St. Joseph School students Katie Beyer, left, and Sophia Olson reach around a large eastern hemlock at Hearts Content on Friday with the help of Lauren Walker (not pictured). Eventually, Alyssa Anderson had to join to reach comfortably around the tree.
"We have a field day each year for the kids," she said. "We try to connect kids to nature in a way that's fun... show them there are a lot of places locally that they can go with their families, just to get outside."
Some years, students go to Hatch Run or a farm. They rotate the location so students see different ecosystems, McGuinness said. The old-growth forest at Hearts Content was up this year.
"This is an example of what the settlers would have seen when they first came to the forest," Research Ecologist Dr. Todd Ristau said.
Or, as ANF Forester Mike Spisak said, "the Native Americans, when they were walking around here, this is very similar to what it was like."
In fact, some of the very trees the students saw Friday could have been around when William Penn first arrived in the state that carries his name in 1682. Ristau said some of the trees in the area are 400 years old.
As students walked through the forest, the forest experts pointed out various plants of interest.
Ristau pointed to a small blue flower and said he wanted the students to remember its name - forget-me-not.
Some of the students got a look at the former state champion white pine tree - now the fourth largest in the state. The status is based on height, circumference, and width of the crown of the tree, Ristau said.
Fires in 1690 and 1740 created the circumstances that allowed white pines to grow so large, he said.
ANF Ecologist April Moore had students pull garlic mustard plants, an invasive species.
"It was fun to pick up the garlic mustard," fifth-grader Francesca Beuger said. "I enjoyed being in nature."
Moore explained that garlic mustard had been brought to the United States by Europeans. The edible plant has a garlic flavor and was used in cooking and medicine, she said. It is a source of vitamins A and C and was valuable for those on long journeys at sea.
Moore and teachers had to discourage students from eating the plants.
Students did nibble on birch. "I learned that sticks could taste good," second-grader Nick Bailey said.
Again, teachers had to discourage students from tasting plants in general.
In McGuinness' Sounds of the Forest exercise, she asked students to describe the sounds of the forest and make up words that sound like the sounds they heard in the forest.
"A second grader said, 'The wind sounded like a bunch of animals... not big animals, like a bunch of foxes,'" she said.
Different students took different information home from the trip.
"I learned all types of trees," second-grader Carter Anderson said.
"White pine needles coming in fives," second-grader Bhodie Cummings said.
"I learned the names of trees," second-grader Max Harrison said. "Hemlock is our state tree."
"It was fun being in nature and seeing all the different trees and leaves," fifth-grader Christina Fischer said.
"I liked walking on the trails and seeing the wildlife," fourth-grader Cara Anderson said.
"I learned a lot about nature and trees," fourth-grader Aidan Colosimo said. "It was a pretty nice day... all sunshine. It's cool right when the light hits the trees."
Shortly before the students boarded the buses, Ristau asked a group for the name of the plant he had asked them to remember.
"Don't-forget-me flower," second-grader Will Sokolski said.
"I like that," Ristau said.