By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Mark Mosey is in rare company.
Mosey, a biology teacher at Colfax High School, recently received the 2015 School Forest Award.
He is one of only three recipients of the award in the state of Wisconsin.
School Forest Awards are presented each year by LEAF, the Wisconsin K-12 Forestry Education Program, to individuals and organizations that have provided leadership for local school forests.
“I was surprised when I got the notification. We were at a staff meeting. John (Dachel, principal at Colfax High School) said somebody on our staff was going to be recognized for what he’s done for the environment and for the school forest. It was a total surprise,” Mosey said.
Pat Furey, a chemistry and physics teacher at Colfax High School, nominated Mosey for the school forest award.
Vince Ross, a fourth grade teacher at Colfax Elementary, and Rob Strand, a Department of Natural Resources forester based out of Menomonie, served as references for the nomination.
Nomination categories include teachers, school administrators, resource professionals (such as foresters, natural resource managers and UW-Extension agents), community members and students.
The nomination form must include a thorough description of the nominee’s involvement with programs, projects or initiatives that have helped the school forest program advance.
No nominations were submitted for the School Forest Award in 2014. In 2013, a family in Tigerton, along with two teachers from Pittsville and Newman Catholic Schools, received the award.
“It’s all part of my job. I always try to get kids out doing things that may strike an interest someday. Whether it’s forestry or fisheries or whatever,” Mosey said.
“When you’ve got those opportunities, you’ve got to go for it. I have been fortunate to work with the Natural Resources people over the years. Rob Strand, the forester in Menomonie, has been awesome,” he said.
“Every year, either fall or spring, we get together (with Rob Strand) to plant trees or mark a timber sale. It always involves kids, whoever is interested. Then we usually end the day with a cookout. That makes it fun,” Mosey said.
The Colfax school district’s school forest is 80 acres in the Town of Otter Creek.
“It’s more of a timber production facility. It’s a valuable piece. All schools in the state got those in the 1950s. Many planted red pine. We are in a cycle. We did a thinning a few years ago. And it will be due soon for another thinning,” Mosey said.
“Eventually we will have nothing but beautiful mature red pine. In time, they will be valuable lumber. But that’s the thing the kids have been able to be involved in. Looking at a tree to say that one should be thinned because it has a split in it or that one is leaning or it’s shaded out. So we take those out. They’ve learned the whole process of forest management,” he said.
“Whatever Rob’s got in mind, we are always willing to help out,” Mosey added.
Furey noted in his nomination of Mosey that grades four through 12 in Colfax have about 500 students, and most if not all of them have been to the school district’s environmental site at least once.
Mosey’s high school students also are involved in the beginnings of forests.
“And then they see the other side with the planting. We’ve planted on several state properties over the years. On (state Highway) 170 by the Hay River and north of Highway 64 in a couple of different areas,” Mosey said.
“The kids have always appreciated being able to get outside and learn in the outdoor classroom. We’re fortunate. We’ve got 18 Mile Creek. A prairie restoration behind the school. Plenty of property within walking distance. There’s a lot of things to learn out there,” he said.
“There’s a good book that talks about nature deficit disorder. We’ve got to fight that. As long as I’m here, we will get the kids outside,” Mosey said.
Mosey was referring to the phrase “nature deficit disorder” coined by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” (2005).
Louv contends that children are spending far less time outdoors than they have in the past and that children are suffering from behavioral problems because they are not getting outside enough.
“It is beautiful country around here. The whole state is really gorgeous. We’re so blessed to have all the different things we have here. It’s so important to get the kids involved so we can have this for the future, too,” Mosey said.
Furey emphasized in his nomination that Mosey has done a tremendous amount over the years to develop an outdoor classroom for Colfax students.
“Mr. Mosey has taken a forested area and created an outdoor classroom. He has built it up to include an enclosed shelter, bathroom facilities, a parking area, a maple syrup making operation and a network of trails and boardwalks. Every student in our middle/high school has had the opportunity to experience the school ‘environmental site.’
“Once a year, Mr. Mosey leads a group of teachers, open to all teachers pre-K through 12, out to the site after school for a hot dog roast and to explore the facilities. He involves community members whenever possible to help. The Army Corps of Engineers have helped with the construction of the shelter and vault bathroom. He has also had a couple of Boy Scouts do Eagle Scout projects at the site. He has worked hand in hand with the DNR forester and his students to manage the timber.
“Our district owns three sites in addition to the school grounds. Mr. Mosey has developed one of the sites into the school’s ‘environmental site,’ while the other two locations he has managed for timber. He also makes extensive use of the school grounds and the local neighborhood. It is an unusual day that you don’t find Mr. Mosey outside with one or more of his classes. From testing the water in the nearby creek and river, to building snow shelters, his classes are always spending time outside learning and having fun.”
Gretchen Marshall, the Wisconsin School Forest Education Specialist, presented the award to Mosey May 2 when Mosey and several of his high school students planted a disease-resistant elm in Iverson Park in Colfax.
The disease-resistant elm was donated by Colfax resident Jim Eggert.
The school forest program and the Wisconsin school forest education specialist position are the result of a partnership between the DNR’s Division of Forestry and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education in the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point.
According to the LEAF website, the vision for the Wisconsin School Forest Program is that “every student will visit their school forest to enhance their learning in all subject areas and to increase their understanding of sustainable natural resource management and of their role in developing sustainable communities. All school forests will serve as outdoor classrooms that will reconnect students with their natural and human communities through place-based, experiential environmental education.”
Wisconsin has 412 school forest parcels, and 238 schools have school forests, including 224 public school districts, seven private schools and seven institutions of higher education.
Wisconsin has more than 400 school districts.