UW-Stevens Point students gain real world skills while helping communities

In an attempt to find an avenue to get small communities in the fold of beginning, or better managing their community tree resources DNR Regional Urban Forestry (UF) Coordinator, Don Kissinger, resurrected memories of his college days when he and his classmates were given a computer simulation to react and manage a fictitious community forestry program. Through this attempt the collaboration with UW- Stevens Point Professor Rich Hauer and his senior level Urban Forestry Lab class began.

The student lab groups inventory trees on street boulevards, parks and natural areas and then develop plans and presentations for communities with residential populations of 500 – 1,500. Six years and twelve communities later, no two community opportunities are the same; each has a little different twist.

Projects begin by connecting with community administrators on site to outline physical and topical areas to be addressed. Then, they view potential inventory sites and determine a date for the student groups to meet with the community council/board to be questioned and to ask questions. For most students this council meeting may be the first they have ever attended. Allowing the students to get a glimpse of local politics in action is helpful, if students aspire to be a community forester or consultant they will undoubtly be responsible for attending and presenting at these events. After the council/board meeting, the students, and Professor Hauer, perform the inventory data collection. Then they develop plans that address the history of the community, tree maintenance operational needs, benefits of the current community forest, open planting sites, tree species options, staff training and public education needs, costs to complete operations, and an overview of the Arbor Day Foundations Tree City USA program.

Each lab class typically has four to five groups that separately devise and present a plan to fellow students, as well as the community representatives. This allows the communities to incorporate the best attributes of each completed plan. Make no mistake, the plans are not to be compared to ones completed by professional consultants, but they provide sound recommendation that some communities have followed closely and have expanded upon.

Through the history of this collaborative effort ten communities have been assisted, with two more to occur this spring, the Villages of Hatley in Marathon County and Birnamwood in Shawano County. Along with the typical planning efforts, this year the students will be helping to site a short trail system through a wooded area and configure a disc golf course on village owned properties.

This effort has also helped procure over a half dozen Urban Forestry Grants, develop a relationship with the Urban Forestry Coordinator in the area, and three communities reached or maintained Tree City status. This project allows communities to become fully aware of their forestry attributes, liabilities and contacts, should they have questions or need additional assistance. The project has been such an educational success that it is now used for the students’ capstone project, which is necessary for graduation. Central Wisconsin is fortunate to have a cooperating university and communities, fitting the criteria, to keep this partnership prosperous into the future.

 

Submitted by: Don Kissinger, Urban Forestry Regional Coordinator