Raymond Hazell, foresty intern at Grande Prairie, engages with a class at our Silviculture station. "This is an important event because it gets kids outside learning about our environment," he says.
On May 9, a late-season snowfall blanketed the grounds of the Ducks Unlimited Canada Wetland Centre at Evergreen Park in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Grade six students arrived in buses, bundled up in heavy coats and mittens, ready to learn about forest-related topics such as how to identify different species of trees, wildlife and invasive plants at the annual Walk Through the Forest event.
“We weren’t expecting it to be -2° Celsius, but the kids still gathered enthusiastically around each of our exhibits, listened and asked questions,” says Connor Chevarie, a summer silviculture intern in our Grande Prairie timberlands.
Walk Through the Forest is a three-day event organized by the Grande Prairie Environmental Science and Education Society, a nonprofit run by a volunteer board of forest professionals and four forestry companies, including Weyerhaeuser, that help fund the organization.
“Students rotate through each of the 13 booths staffed by volunteers, moving to the next one about every 12 minutes,” says Traci Carter, forest planning manager in Grande Prairie. “Every year we reach approximately 950 students who might take in this information and think, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”
Interns Spencer Dahl and Dom Tollefson teach a group how to identify tree species.
REACHING KIDS AT THE RIGHT TIME
Founded by Weyerhaeuser and fellow forestry companies Canfor and West Fraser in 2002, GPESES brings forest education to classrooms in the Grande Prairie school district. Walk Through the Forest is the organization’s main annual event, inviting students to visit a forest in person and see for themselves what kinds of career opportunities exist in beautiful natural settings.
“Grade six is the perfect age to do this, because they’re just starting to learn about forest processes in school,” Traci says. “The students are curious and ready to engage, and they’re old enough to understand what we mean when we talk about topics like forest management and harvesting techniques.”
Traci, who represents Weyerhaeuser on the GPESES Board of Directors, helps plan the event each year. A group of our summer forestry interns staff the booths.
This year, the summer interns presented a Tree ID exhibit to explain the different characteristics of trees found in Grande Prairie, and also a Silviculture exhibit demonstrating the proper way to plant tree seedlings and help them grow. They also helped out at West Fraser’s booth about Forest Health, discussing the various diseases, insects and fungi that can stress local trees.
After rotating through each booth, the students took a quiz on what they learned for a chance to win a pizza party for their class.
“I attended a Walk Through the Forest event myself as a young student, and it really opened my eyes to the idea that I could have an awesome job where I spend a lot of time outdoors,” says Jake Atkinson, forestry intern at Grande Prairie (and one of this year’s Green Dream scholarship recipients). “It was a cool full-circle moment for me to talk to the kids about silviculture, and they were motivated to pay attention. It’s a great promotional tool for our industry.”
Interns Jake Atkinson and Connor Chevarie teach a group of kids about forest health. 'One major opportunity for improvement we have in this industry is to learn how to celebrate ourselves, and put out positive messaging about forestry,' Traci says.
A RETURN TO FRESH AIR AND FUN
This was the first year the event was held in person again after a hiatus in May 2020 and a virtual event in 2021.
“We did our best to make last year’s event exciting, with virtual stations and an app-based scavenger event,” Traci says. “In fact, the scavenger hunt was such a hit that we incorporated it this year. We also added a ‘duck hunt,’ hiding little plastic ducks around the woods. The kids had a blast counting them and submitting their guesses for a prize.”
Traci, Connor and Jake say the students were excited by the opportunity to interact with other kids and forest professionals.
“Talking to the kids, we’d sometimes learn that one of their parents works in the forest industry, or at a sawmill, or in the oil and gas industry,” Traci says. “Those students usually have some level of knowledge and experience about forests, but others said they never leave the Grande Prairie city limits for recreation. It’s all brand-new to them, but they’re equally enthusiastic.”
Intern Madi Lieske ready to greet school groups at the start of the event. 'Participating in Walk Through the Forest is a great way to introduce our summer students to our values,' Traci says.
OPENING NEW PATHS TO COOL CAREERS
For the first time, this year’s event was held at the Ducks Unlimited Wetland Centre at Evergreen Park, a new facility that’s one of the first hands-on outdoor sites in Canada for boreal wetlands. It includes an interpretive trail system, demonstration areas and research sites.
“Our previous venues were a bit more urban, and the kids really appreciated the location change,” Traci says. “They were immersed in the forest the whole time. The Wetland Centre allowed them to get away into a peaceful natural setting where they could observe more of our native ecosystem and the life it contains.”
Our interns who helped out at the event hope that spreading the message about it and its goals will help inspire more efforts to reach out to younger kids, both locally and within the company at large.
“I wasn’t really aware of the forest industry until I was in 12th grade, which is quite late,” Connor says. “Any later, and I might have missed out altogether and chosen something less fulfilling. It felt great to be a part of this effort, knowing it could change some of these kids’ lives for the better and put them on a whole new path.”