Students Discover the Bounty of the Forest at Weeklong Family Forestry Expo in Montana

Weyerhaeuser volunteers get the site ready ahead of the Expo. From left: Brent Richardson, Dani Dorband, Larry Garner, Emily Weck, Julie Gardner, David Browning, Marla Chappell, Patrick Cowan, Rebecca Hamilton, Milo Funk, Sandra Webb, Seth Moffit, Caroline Henzelman, Elise Garner and Dylon Hoff.

Surrounded by a crowd of elementary school students, Sean Reynolds announced, “Today we’re going to talk about boards. Who thinks that sounds boring?”

Hands shot into the air, but Sean wasn’t disheartened. He knew they’d change their minds in just a few moments. They always do.

Sean, a log yard supervisor at our medium-density fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls, Montana, has helmed a Weyerhaeuser learning station at the annual Family Forestry Expo for 17 years. He’s become a pro at dazzling kids with entertaining demonstrations that show off our products and machinery.

This year, Sean was among a record 43 employees from our three Montana sites (Columbia Falls MDF and Kalispell plywood and lumber) who volunteered at the Expo.

“I’ve had fellow Weyerhaeuser employees tell me they remember coming to my station as kids, and how much it meant to them — and now they’re volunteering,” Sean says. “We’re having a great time sharing our knowledge and experience with a new generation.”

Image of Elise, shown presenting Douglas-fir seedlings to each class.

'This event is a great chance to show how much Weyerhaeuser cares for our community,' says Elise, pictured here presenting Douglas-fir seedlings to each class. 'We’re committed to educating our kids about their career options and the beautiful forests that surround us here in Montana. Teachers are so excited about registering their classes that they start emailing me months ahead of time.'


Now in its 34th year, the Family Forestry Expo is a week-long educational opportunity for fifth graders in Montana’s Flathead Valley to learn about all the benefits and products provided by Montana’s forests. Forestry companies, government agencies and local organizations volunteer to run learning stations about topics ranging from forest products and forest management practices to wildlife, plant identification, safe hunting and backcountry camping, to name just a few.

This year, 1,215 students from 56 classes and 31 schools attended the Expo at Trumbull Creek Educational Forest — which is owned by Stoltze Land and Lumber Company — from May 8 to 12. And when the Expo opened to the general public on May 13, it registered its largest-ever community turnout.

Image of Jeremy Strey and Tim Olson presenting our plywood learning station this year.

Jeremy Strey (left) and Tim Olson presented our plywood learning station this year. Tim has been volunteering with the Expo for a number of years, and Jeremy was participating for the first time. They taught the kids about plywood, taught them to make their own using plywood samples and glue, and explained the variety of product we make for our customers.

Elise Garner, administrative assistant for Montana Wood Products, has helped plan the event for the past five years, first as a board member and then as the chairperson for the past two years. Elise registers classes, schedules students for their guided tours, serves as day coordinator for two of the days and helps with the weekend events that are open to the public.

She also coordinates a work day to help clear trails and get the Trumbull Creek forest ready. This year, 16 coworkers and her dad helped out, and part of the preparations included laying wood chips donated by our MDF mill on the trails.

“When I first got involved, we had just three or four volunteers from Weyerhaeuser,” Elise says. “Enthusiasm has grown so much. I think we’re all realizing that engaging with the community isn’t just important and rewarding — it’s fun.”

Image of Sean Reynolds, left, with Lance Walsh.

'As a fifth-generation Montanan whose family has always made their living from the forest, this event is really special to me,' says Sean Reynolds, left, pictured with Lance Walsh. 'I always tell the kids we’re very blessed to live here. Any direction you travel from the Flathead Valley, you’ve got lakes, ski resorts, campgrounds and beautiful nature. We have a duty to take care of it. I tell the kids that in my humble opinion, the most important invention in the history of humankind is the lowly piece of paper, because it allowed a mass transfer of information. Forest products have affected our lives deeply for many centuries, and we still use them for shelter, food, schoolbooks and so much more.'


During the event, our employees hosted learning stations and acted as guides to take the kids to and from each station. Jeremy Wilke, supervisor at our Kalispell sawmill, and Bryan Edwards, reliability supervisor at our Kalispell sawmill and plywood complex, were among the guides — coming full circle from their first experiences at the Expo as kids.

“I attended this event as a kid and had so much fun running around in the woods with my friends,” Bryan says. “Now, as an adult working in the industry, it’s really cool to watch kids take in these topics with excitement and fascination.”

Image of Jared Richardson, Ben Martinez and Jeremy Wilke.

Jared Richardson, Ben Martinez and Jeremy Wilke.

Jeremy also attended the Family Forestry Expo as a student. His father was a logger, and he’s been exposed to forestry as long as he can remember.

“Forestry is a way of life here, but even kids with deep connections to our industry learn a lot at the Expo,” he says. “There’s a great diversity of interesting topics. At one learning station, run by a fishery, students got to put goggles on and peer into the water to learn about stream biology. They had a blast.”

Image of a homemade card one of the attending classes sent to Elise following the event.

A homemade card one of the attending classes sent to Elise after the event. 'Kids are amazed when they learn about all the different roles forest products play in our daily lives, from cellulose in our toothpaste to MDF in our furniture,' Elise says. 'It really opens their eyes to how important our forests are.'


Our learning stations included presentations on forest practices, the making of plywood, MDF and lumber, and a portable sawmill demonstration.

Sean was joined at his station by Lance Walsh, utility worker at Columbia Falls. Together, they showed the kids how a round log is cut into various sizes of straight lumber. They also built a shelter out of lodgepole pine logs, teaching kids how to build a basic structure in the woods.

“I think as employees, we benefit from volunteering just as much as kids benefit from attending,” Sean says. “Very few of us working in forest products see the big picture. We just do our small part of the whole. Here, we get to learn more about other aspects of the industry. I hope it shows us all that making our living from the land is something to be very proud of.”