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Hundreds of HHS students clean up School Forest

Students made a serious dent in clearing dead trees, brush and invasive species from the school forest on Nov. 9. Photo by Meg Heaton1 / 3
The forest donated to the school by the late Alvin and Georgia Weitkamp was recently officially designated as a Wisconsin school forest. Al Weitkamp was a teacher at Hudson Junior High School.2 / 3
Teachers and former teachers who planned and coordinated the recent school forest cleanup are from left Jami Holum, Erin Williamson, Cal Stenso, Marv Grabau, Patty Mueller, Bob Rengstorf with pup Trapper, Amy Petermeier, Ann Goodlad and Brian Petermeier. Submitted photo3 / 3

On what turned out to be the last warm day of autumn, more than 400 Hudson High School biology students entered the school forest Nov. 9 on a mission: to remove deadfall trees, brush piles, and invasive species.

The service learning project was part of phase one of the restoration 10-acre forest to make it more accessible for educational opportunities for HHS students and the community.

The "school forest" was donated by Alvin and Georgia Weitkamp to Hudson High School in 1972, for the school to use as an outdoor educational facility. In the mid 1980s to early 1990s a group of teachers worked to establish and to promote learning outside the four walls of the classroom. Those teachers included science instructors Bob Rengstorf, Marv Grabau, and Nancy Toll from the then junior and senior high staffs along with vocational education teacher Dan Reis. Over the years the forest has been used for multiple biology, ecology, and conservation classes, as well as training areas for cross country teams and other various sports teams over the years.

But according to HHS science teacher Amy Petermeier, storms, erosion, natural succession and spread of invasive or exotic species over the years have made some of the forest trails impassible. While annual trimmings have helped, the present HHS biology team including teachers Jami Holum, Amy and Brian Petermeier, and Erin Meier-Williamson, along with fellow science teacher, Patty Mueller, advisor to the Student Leadership Sustainability club, came up with a bolder plan -- to ask sophomore biology students to participate in a service learning project that will begin to restore and revitalize the woods and open it to many more learning opportunities and uses.

With the blessing of the forest's neighbors, past and present teachers, substitutes, administrators, community members, neighbors, and friends turned out to tackle the project. Prior to the students' Nov. 9 work, hundreds of volunteer hours were logged identifying property lines, removing and piling brush and buckthorn and cutting down and piling dead wood.

The students went into the forest single file and formed a chain that passed wood and brush up the line to a waiting trailer to remove it. The idea is to restore the trails and paths to increase the accessibility and usage of the area.

Said Petermeier, "The impact of 400 plus students in just over two hours time is an excellent start. Patty Mueller has done everything it takes for the land to now be officially registered as a "school forest", opening it up to grant money and further fundraising opportunities. It's exciting to see energy going into the forest."

Petermeier said many people have been involved in the success of the project including students, teachers, parents, and community members who have worked both after school and weekends to further the project. She especially acknowledged retired teachers Bob Rengstorf, Marv Grabau, Ron Schock, and Oscar Johnson for their assistance, guidance and wisdom on the project.

Petermeier said, "Thank you to everyone who helped on the project, especially the biology department for all of their hard work and dedication to this project! Their enthusiasm and tenacity on the job will help open the door for many more outdoor learning opportunities in the years to come."

For more information about the school forest restoration contact, Petermeier at (715)377-3800.