School Forest History
Tri-County Area School’s original school forest was established on Friday, October 16, 1953. Although the forest was established and dedicated then, it is not the forest the school utilizes today. However, it was a great start of the concept of school forests and placed Tri-County Area Schools as one of the leaders in the establishment of school forests in the state of Wisconsin. The history makes obvious the development of the forest involved the hard work of many dedicated people, the enthusiastic support of the Board of Education, administrators, and taxpayers.
Shortly after World War II many schools in the state of Wisconsin moved in the direction of making school forests part of their educational program. With our state following in this direction our Board of Education was looking to purchase a parcel of land. At this time a conservation club, “The Land and Lakes Club” was interested in selling 360 acres in Adams County, the Town of Rome. However, during the meeting to discuss the sale the members decided to donate the land to the district instead of selling it. The donation was contingent upon two provisions:
1. The land should never be closed to hunting.
2. The school forest should become a memorial to veterans of World War II.
With this agreement in place, the school forest was dedicated on October 16, 1953.
During the next several years forest development continued, utilizing many of the projects outlined by Mr. Sylvestor from the Trees for Tomorrow facility and District Administrator VanSant’s support. In 1968 Isacson Development Corporation of Reedsburg purchased a large tract of land adjacent to the creek that ran through the forest property and adjacent to the school forest. The creek was to be dammed and lakes created. Lake Camelot was to be created at the edge of the forest.
The cooperation entered in negotiations with the school district for purchase of the property. The school was not interested in selling until a tract of land, known as the Powers Property, near Goose Lake east of Hancock was available for purchase. It was an ideal location for a school outdoor laboratory. It had the additional advantage of being only 6 miles from the school, instead of thirteen miles as was the forest in the Town of Rome. On September 29, 1969, the negotiations were finalized and the deed recorded with the State.
After the deed was recorded roads were developed, fire lanes established, test plots laid out, demonstration areas established, a well drilled, a shelter house and pit toilets constructed, brush cleared and animal shelters and bird housing areas established.
In October of 1976, 60% of the School District’s Plainfield school was destroyed by fire. Insurance money and a bond issue were used to fund the new school. The decision was made at that time to close the Hancock School and send all children to the Plainfield site. This placed all grades K–12 under one roof.
With the building of the new school, Tri-County needed a new athletic field to complete the complex. During this time the Wautoma District proposed a purchase of 160 acres of forest remaining in the Town of Rome. The school board realized that this portion of the forest was getting little use and thought the money could be used to help fund their project. As a result, the property was sold for $25,000.00 and a new athletic field was established.
Meanwhile, the current school forest had timber large enough for sale, so various cuttings of pulp have been made and sold. Some pines in the future may be sold to log cabin size which will generate even more money. This income has been placed in a school forest account with the District and has been utilized from time to time for projects within the forest. In this way the school forest is unique to the district as it has generated revenue for school forest projects.
In the following years the Board of Education formed a School Forest Advisory Committee. Its primary function is to make recommendations to the Board of Education for the up-keep, development, and use of the school forest. The School Forest Advisory Committee periodically is to consult with school officials to coordinate decisions on expenditures related to school forest improvement.
In the spring of 1991, Al Schinner began the process of converting a permanent conservation easement to Tri-County Schools. This enlarged the access and project areas for users of our forest. The easement stipulates that the land be managed as a school forest and that the Tri-County School Forest Committee would be able to use and suggest uses for the land. This puts the school forest acreage at approximately 405 acres.
In the summer of 1991 the Board of Education acquired the services of an Environmental Education (EE) Program Coordinator, Larry Mancl, who was a certified staff person, to work with the School Forest Advisory Committee to fulfill its mission in providing environmental education to the district youth. The Environmental Education Program Coordinator provides the professional link between the School Forest Advisory Committee and the Board of Education in insuring that the school forest becomes an effective resource in meeting the overall educational needs of the students of the Tri-County Area School District.
In 1993 the EE program was established by Larry Mancl. Following the high school students’ sophomore year they may apply to participate in the EE program. Once accepted, they begin their summer training program during which students are given the necessary background in topics such as first aide/CPR, natural resources, and the basics of education. Following the summer instruction, the students draw upon the knowledge and skills they gained in the summer program to work with district faculty to plan and conduct biannual field trips for each grade level. This program is unique in that through EE projects it has helped to develop the school forest into a true learning environment complete with everything from benches to walking trails, plant/information markers to a variety of “scenic views” such as the tower and amphitheater. The EE course serves not only the students that are directly instructed, but also the counselor themselves. To this date, this program has served as a model in outdoor education for the state of Wisconsin.
During the Ice Age, about 1500 years ago, most of North America was covered by huge ice sheets. The glacier’s mark on Wisconsin is impressive. The Wisconsin Glaciation lasted from about 100,000 to 10,000 years ago. The most recent glacier in Wisconsin covered about two-thirds of the state. When the ice melted, sand, silt, cobbles, and boulders left in it formed ridges called moraines.
The moraine in Waushara County has thousands of depressions (pot hole ponds), but they are mostly dry. The Ice Age left the landscape here very diverse. The lakes and ponds in and near Waushara County as well as the forested hills, ridges, and farmlands, are a reminder of the glacier’s visit to us.
With the most recent retreat of glaciers from the area, the melting outwash deposited sandy sediments across the Central Regions of Wisconsin, creating what we now call the Sand Counties area. The Western part of Waushara County, where our school forest is located, is part of this central sands region of Wisconsin. This large central region of the state is characterized by mostly flat terrain and very poor sandy soils. Natural vegetation in this region is dominated by conifer and dry oak species of forests, with some local variation due to fertile river bottom and/or other wetland soils. When natural wildfires ran freely across this region, some areas were dominated by dry-prairie (prairie oak savannah) and pine baron environment, others were dominated by pine/oak forests indicative of the dry nutrient deficient soil of the region. Much of this region of the state remains covered with natural vegetation to date, as agricultural practices outside of forestry are very limited due to the poor quality soils characteristic of the region.
The property that is now the Tri-County School Forest began private ownership for the first time in 1855 and 1856, as separate parcels, when it was first purchased from the United States Government. Following this initial land purchase, the school forest property formally changed hands 13 times until 1873 when the land was purchased by Cyrus H. McCormick. Cyrus McCormick stands as a significant past owner of the school forest property since he was given credit for the invention of the mechanical reaper, which contributed greatly to the Westward settlement and expansion of the United States of America. Dozens of more transactions have taken place concerning ownership of the school forest property (240 acres) until it was ultimately purchased by the Tri-County School District in 1968 (see school forest history section). In 1991 an additional 160 acres adjacent to the forest property was obtained through a conservation easement (from Albert J. Schinner) bringing the total acreage of the school forest property to 400 acres.