Outdoor learning space at Discovery Middle School designated as DNR School Forestry site
Nearly two miles of trails through the Alexandria site are open for public use.
Students at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria will soon have new learning opportunities as the school was recently designated as a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources School Forestry site .
This means that it gives staff at the school access to DNR training on outdoor learning, resources for the DNR, as well as materials and curriculum for the students, according to Lukas Gotto, DMS teacher and integration specialist.
In addition, it includes a long-term School Forestry Management Plan to help with the upkeep and updating of the forest, which includes new trees, plants and hopefully wildlife, said Gotto.
In order for a school to become designated as a DNR School Forestry site, it needed to have land owned by the school. According to Gotto, the school property sits on about 100 acres of land owned by the school district. Of that, about half has been designated as forests, which will be used as an outdoor classroom.
Within that forest, there will be at least three outdoor classrooms and there are now nearly two miles of trails that can be used by students, as well as the public for walking, running, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and more, said Gotto. To help navigate the area, two new, large maps were erected showing not only where the trails are, but also where the different sports fields are, as well as the numerous ponds that are within the forestry area.
Gotto said the ponds have now all been named as well, which will help students to more easily identify which pond is which when doing water studies. In some of the science classes, students take water samples from the ponds. Instead of using the “north pond” or the “south pond,” the ponds are labeled Victoria, Geneva, Le Homme Dieu, Darling and Carlos, after lakes in the area.
Within the forest area, which is west of the school, Gotto said the goal is to have every biome of Minnesota. This means it would include the community of plants and animals that occur naturally in the state, such as wildflowers, coniferous trees and wetlands. He said the wildlife on the property is amazing and that the wood duck houses that have been put up have cameras so students can watch and learn about the lifecycle of wood ducks.
The school district has partnered with several organizations for all the work that has been done and several organizations have sponsored three aluminum docks that have been or will be installed on the trails, including Viking Sportsmen, Pheasants Forever, Alexandria Elks, Alexandria Rotary Club and the Prairie Lakes Audubon Society.
Coming up in August, 44 students in grades 2-8, will be attending a "maker camp" and will be helping to build the outdoor classrooms, as well as adding signage to trails and ponds. The camp is set for Aug. 2-5.
Gotto said there were several reasons for all of the work that has been done on the property, but that the number one reason was the students.
“I wanted this for the kids,” he said. “And for the community. I just wanted it to be used for activities. It’s an amazing piece of property and a great way to get people outside.”