Ligonier Valley students help plant arboretum at Forbes State Forest office
Students from Ligonier Valley Middle School got in some field work this past week — literally.
The 25 students enrolled in horticulture and marketing classes in grades 6-8 helped plant several trees that will transform a Laughlintown field just west of the Forbes State Forest district office into a showcase for native biodiversity.
Led by state Bureau of Forestry staff and adult members of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps, the students on Wednesday hefted the large saplings into waiting holes, cut off burlap surrounding the roots and shoveled in dirt to secure them along a looping trail. In the process, they learned how the tree species will be part of a new arboretum at the site.
Eighth-grader Chad Shank, 13, of Fairfield, was ready to dig right in to the tree-planting detail.
“I like to be outside. I like dealing with dirt,” he said, noting he’s taken part in a hydroponics project and started a raised-bed garden at his home last year.
“It took a lot of work to build,” he said of the garden.
Classmate Jacob Roadman, 13, who is interested in becoming a part-time farmer, has helped plant evergreen trees at his family’s home near Stahlstown. But, he said, those small sprigs didn’t compare to the much-larger deciduous trees he helped set in place along the Laughlintown trail.
“These are bigger,” he said.”The (evergreens) we planted were less than a year old.”
The collection of 24 trees next to the Forbes State Forest office is meant to be both educational and inviting for visitors , according to District Forester Ed Callahan.
”It has been in my mind for at least two decades now,” he said of the arboretum. “This is going to be great for local residents and people who just stop in. They’re going to have over a mile’s worth of trails to take a hike on, just to enjoy some peace and solitude.”
Also, he said, “They’re going to be able to learn about some of the native tree species and pollinator habitat while they’re walking” — perhaps inspiring them to add similar plants on their own property.
The arboretum project began last year, with plantings of native wildflowers in the field, to create a habitat attractive to pollinators such as butterflies.
With funding support from the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, the forest office staff and Outdoor Corps members combined forces this year to construct a half mile of the trail, using about $7,500 worth of stone aggregate material. They dug strategically placed holes for the trees, which cost close to $4,000 to purchase.
The arboretum trail links to an older path that visitors can use to explore the adjacent Bob Ache Memorial Forest, named for a former district forester.
“We’re adding trees that are beneficial to pollinators and also trees that are of diverse varieties, some that people don’t often see in the woods,” said Celine Colbert, a service forester at the Laughlintown office.
Spaced along the trail are such varieties as Carolina silverbell — which flowers with white, bell-shaped blossoms in the spring — and yellow buckeye, which produces yellow spring blooms and foliage that turns orange when autumn arrives.
One group of Ligonier Valley students picked “Sugar Plum” as a nickname for the sweetgum tree they planted.
Serviceberry and hawthorn trees were chosen for a stretch of the trail that parallels Route 30, Colbert said, because they can stand up to road salt and won’t grow tall enough to interfere with utility lines.
The state forest staff will place mulch around the newly planted trees to help them retain moisture, said Rachael Mahony, environmental education specialist at the Laughlintown office. The staff also plans to construct an informational kiosk, create a guide and place signs at each of the trees to help visitors identify the species.
With the arboretum’s emphasis on native plants, Mahony said, “this has set us up as an example for people driving by or stopping by, to see that this is a way you can manage your private land.”
The working field trip for the Ligonier Valley students was part of a project-based learning program at the high school that “allows the students to work on a project from the ground up and gives them real-world experience,” said social studies instructor Joe Skoloda.
Skoloda said marketing students participated in the tree-planting to capture photos and videos they may use to promote an April 18 event that will be held at the middle school, in partnership with the Forbes State Forest staff.
According to Colbert, the public will be invited to a free morning “DIY Pollinator Garden” workshop, where they can view pollinator plantings completed by students. She said more than 200 people attended a similar event last year at Franklin Regional Senior High School.
“We have a greenhouse that just opened up at our school, and we’ll be using that to create pollinator gardens and native plants that students will be able to sell at different open air markets and events at our school,” said Ryan Podlucky, instructor for the middle school’s horticulture elective course, now in its second year.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .