Visitors to Nature Net sites this summer are finding a personal message when they lift the lids on wooden boxes to retrieve a “passport” to use on an educational nature scavenger hunt.
The boxes hold Nature Passports, which are booklets used for a scavenger hunt and journaling activity for children and parents. The program is a way to explore Nature Net sites found at places like parks and nature centers and record observations.
Through a partnership between Nature Net, a nonprofit environmental learning network founded by the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, and Jefferson Middle School, new boxes were created to house the passports. They were made by the middle school students who walked next door to Memorial High School to take a woodworking class taught by Miles Tokheim, a technology and engineering teacher.
The boxes were built over the spring semester and are being gradually installed at some Nature Net sites where the boxes were showing their age.
The inside of the lid notes the partnership and the date the box was completed and by what student.
“It was the very first time I used more than probably just a drill at my house so it was fun to do,” said Marco Tatili, who will be a ninth-grader at Memorial High School.
“It was nice to see all of our hard work … and the finished product at the end,” he said. “It is nice that the people can see our work and they can actually use it, too.”
Kimball Banwell, who was a Nature Net intern in the fall of 2017, said when she was given the task of coming up with about a dozen new boxes, she decided to reach out to students who might use them.
Through that process she found Tokheim, who was willing to take on the project, and Nature Net provided funding for the materials.
“It just unfolded into this awesome thing,” she said.
Current Nature Net intern Hadley Edie, who started in January, was then responsible for following through with the project.
She said the partnership was mutually beneficial because the students learned new skills while Nature Net is benefiting from having new boxes.
“This is obviously the target audience we want to engage with the passports,” Edie said.
The theme for this year’s Passport is “#NatureHappens … all year long!” with a focus on adaptations and changes that happen throughout the seasons.
The boxes are being installed at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, the UW Arboretum, Cave of the Mounds, Vilas Zoo, Sandburg Woods park and the MacKenzie Center in Poynette, which are the sites that needed new boxes.
“It was a big project for us to do,” said Emma Mayhew, who will be a ninth-grader at Memorial. “We hadn’t really done much in (woodworking) before.”
She said the project taught the students a lot. The hardest part was making sure all of the measurements were correct, she said.
“It was exciting,” Emma said about the idea of having her box installed at Sandburg Woods.
Maddie Ballweg, who will be a ninth-grader at Memorial, said the most challenging part of the process for her was when one of the boards for the box she was making with Marco accidentally got knocked off a table and broke.
So that part of the box had to be made over, which took a couple of extra days.
“I thought it was really cool because I was getting to make something other people would be able to see and would be there for 15 to 20 years,” said Maddie, whose box was installed outside of the Discovery Center and Herpetarium at the Vilas Zoo.