MONTICELLO – Max Kinder was the first one to grab a shovel.
“A shovel in one hand and a spade in the other,” he said immediately after stepping out of a van carrying 17 members of the conservation management class at Monticello High School. “That’s how I made my money last summer.”
Max and his classmates planted 24 oak trees at the Monticello United Methodist Church on Thursday, as part of the 4-H Green Communities Tree program.
“I know how to dig holes,” Kinder said, “and I want to help make a difference.”
The members from the class are also 4-H and FFA members said 4-H Youth Development Educator Jamie Boas.
“They have learned about land conservation practices and the importance of tree savannas here in Illinois,” she said. “We’re excited they get this hands-on opportunity to make a difference in the community.”
Illinois once held 14 million acres of trees, but that number has dropped to five million due to modern development practices. The church was chosen as a public place where all members of the community could enjoy the trees.
“Right now, it’s not much to look at and we can’t enjoy them,” said Cal Spence, a senior at MHS. “But I will be able to come here and tell my kids that I helped plant these trees, someday.”
Curt Sinclair, 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialist Curt Sinclair demonstrated how to plant the trees. He told them the importance of the roots and keeping them free so they wouldn’t choke the tree out after planting.
“This is a wonderful group to work with,” he said. “This worked out very well with the conservation management class. The kids are willing to work hard and really care about this project. ”
In all, 31 Soil and Water Conservation Districts coordinated with their county extension offices for the program. A grant of $ 10,000 was used to purchase 775 trees statewide.
“These oak trees are important and getting rare,” Sinclair said.
The students said they were happy to help.
“This helps the community and I’m really looking forward to seeing what this looks like in the future,” said Wyatt Kenyon, a senior. “You’ll be able to take wedding photos out here, relax in the shade and when you enter Monticello from this direction, it’s going to be beautiful.”
“I just really enjoy the opportunity to be outside and working hands on with the plants and trees,” added Lana Derosset, another senior. “Being able to plant the tree yourself instead of just reading about it in a book in a classroom is very special. It’s a different experience and I am enjoying it. ”
Elizabeth Rost is the teacher of the conservation management class.
“We talk a lot about forestry and trees and the importance of planting trees,” she said. “But it is so important to have an opportunity like this where they can come listen to experts and actually do it themselves. It teaches them a life skill and someday, they can plant trees at their own homes. ”
Spending time at Allerton
The students are also using Allerton Park as a field school to supplement their classroom curriculum.
Rost’s class will visit Allerton eight to 10 times this spring, learning from Natural Areas Managers Nate Beccue and Alex Lourash.
“All year we’ve been learning about topics within the field of conservation and outdoor recreation. And now, this is like our field experience. At the beginning of the year we have a forest unit, and now we’re out here looking at the trees, ”Rost said.
For example, students learned on an April 19 hike about invasive species and deer herd management, along with other tidbits that included facts about everything from woodpeckers to the habits of turkey buzzards near the Allerton house.
“It gets them out to see what’s here. I wish I’d taken a class like this in high school, ”Beccue said.
Students learned about the extensive effort since 2004 to get the number of deer to a point where they can survive and the forest would not suffer.
There were about 730 deer at Allerton in 2004, equating to about 163 per square mile, much higher than the 10 to 30 per square mile than helps unsure the sustainability of a herd.
Early on, both archery and shotgun hunting were allowed to get the herd down to between 150 and 250. These days, only archery hunts are allowed for seven weeks each year.
Those wishing to take part must volunteer for 30 hours at Allerton, doing work ranging from invasive species management to helping with event parking.
“It’s a big help to us, and a big help to them (the archery hunters),” Lourash told the high schoolers.
Beccue estimated around 30 to 35 deer are harvested in the forests of Allerton.
Other topics covered during trips to the park include energy sustainability, bird watching, even a unit on how researchers study snake that inhabit the prairie. Binoculars are available for students who want a closer look during the spring hikes.
“We try to always move and point out things,” Beccue added.
“It’s amazing,” said Rost. “Plus, to have Nate and Alex, they know way more than I do so it brings in some experts who take it to the next level for the kids.”
This is the second year the conservation management class has spent time at Allerton. Rost said she got the idea during a visit to Okaw Valley High School.
“Their students get to work with the corps of engineers and go out and manage land out there, so that sparked an idea that we should be doing this too,” she said.