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Trails and trees: Gwinn students maintain Interpretive Nature Trail

This sign shows the trailhead of Gwinn Middle School’s Interpretive Nature Trail. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

GWINN — The river birch has flaky, reddish-brown bark. The American beech has smooth bark. Proper spelling is essential.

Kristy Humphrey, a science teacher at Gwinn Middle School, on Wednesday oversaw her students making new signs with facts about particular trees for the school’s Interpretive Nature Trail, created by GMS science exploratory students.

The trail weaves through a wooded area close to the former middle school, which isn’t far from the current Gwinn High/Middle School building.

“The trail I originally built in 2006 with my science exploratory class when we were in the old building,” Humphrey said, with money coming from a grant from the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development.

However, the trail was vandalized in the first year, but was rebuilt the following year with community donations, she said.

Hannah Eagle, left, and Mikayla Johnson, eighth-graders at Gwinn Middle School, work on signs for the school’s Interpretive Nature Trail. Tree identification is this year’s theme. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

Fortunately, the trail has been vandalism-free since then.

Still, it has to be maintained.

Humphrey said students “refresh” the trail

— a loop of about two-tenths of a mile — every year when the new class creates new sign boards.

“Every year we try to swap it up so it’s a different theme than we had the year before,” Humphrey said.

For instance, she said the 2019-20 theme was the students identifying something within view of their signed trees.

This year, it’s tree identification.

“Every sign that will be out on the trail has a different tree that it’s featuring,” Humphrey said.

Cleaning up the trail is another part of maintenance, and this year has its challenges following heavy snowfall last November.

The trail itself is walkable, she noted, but the woods need a lot of work.

“We have a ton of windfall,” Humphrey said.

Although the students study trees and other science-related concepts, the Interpretive Nature Trail is open to the public as well, with two trail cams in operation.

“Every month we swap out the memory card in there and we look at our wildlife pictures,” Humphrey said. “We’ve had everything from black bear to deer to fox to raccoons to skunks to turkeys — pretty much, you name it.”

The cams come in handy for another kind of wildlife.

“There’s definitely people we can tell it’s their favorite dog-walking trail because we’ll see them on the trail cam,” Humphrey said. “There’s the same dog with the leash with the same owner, and they wave at the trail cam.”

Making the signs takes some skill.

Humphrey said the students make designs on Google Docs and print out their signs, using carbon paper to trace and transfer letters. Outlining the letters also is part of the activity.

Mod Podge is used attach paper to the signs.

Posts are in the ground and are ready for the signs, she said,. Signs also are to be hung from trees so youngsters have their own signs.

It’s a community trail is another way; Humphrey gave credit to the trail’s sponsor, Ace Hardware of Gwinn, which has provided lumber, sealant and brackets.

“They have been wonderful,” Humphrey said.

Eighth-grader Hannah Eagle enjoys helping out with the Interpretive Nature Trail, learning about trees and trails, although she acknowledged transferring letters to the board is the most difficult.

“It’s fun to do,” Eagle said. “You get to do a lot of projects and everything.”

Another eighth-grader, Mikayla Johnson, is learning about botany as well.

“I like learning about the different kind of trees out there and at least getting outside to see where they are,” Johnson said. “You’re able to help other people.”

That’s for sure — dog walkers can get more out of trail walks when they can identify a black cherry tree.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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