The Fair Oaks Elementary School first graders received a special treat Wednesday, May 9 when they traveled by bus to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County.
One hundred and nineteen excited kids piled into two buses and braved sick tummies for a long ride out of the flatlands and up into the high country at 4,800 feet elevation to marvel at the historic majesty of the ancient sequoias.
For the third year, the first graders were given the opportunity to put what they’d learned in class to the test and see for themselves the glory of nature.
“The time outdoors and seeing different parts of California and getting that connection to nature and history is great for the kids,” Stacey Aprile, Fair Oaks Elementary Principal said of what she believes is the value of such trips.
The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) funded the trip, paying $960 for the two buses and $60 for the park entrance, so the students could experience this enriching trip.
According to the California State Park web portal, the trees became world famous in the 1850s, thanks in part to some circus-style promoters, who chopped down “Discovery Tree” and took it on tour. Another set of proteers stripped the bark off the “Mother of the Forest” and exhibited the “reassembled” tree in New York and in England’s famed Crystal Palace.
Fortunately, for the trees, anyway, most of the truly curious came to visit the Sierra redwoods rather than expecting the trees to “visit” them. Scientists, celebrities, and thousands of just plain fascinated folks made their way to Calaveras
County, often staying in the Mammoth Grove Hotel built close to the big trees. For a time, scientists believed the giant sequoias in North Grove were the only ones on earth. With the discovery of other, greater groves in the Yosemite-Sequoia National Park areas, the Calaveras Big Trees, as a tourist attraction anyway, declined somewhat in importance.
The biggest trees are truly big — 250 to 300 feet high and 25 to 30 feet across. And they’re ancient — 2,000 to 3,000 years old. The trees are relics from a warmer and wetter clime and time, the Mesozoic Era, some 180 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Once much more numerous, the big trees survive now only in 75 groves on the western slope of the High Sierra.
“A owering glade in the very heart of the woods, forming a ne center for the student, and a delicious resting place for the weary,” is how the great naturalist John Muir described the forest of giant sequoia, ponderosa pine and incense cedar now protected by Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
When asked what the teachers enjoyed about taking the students to the Big Trees, Lynn Zunino said, “I love to see how excited the children get when they are looking at the trees. Also they look for identifying marks that we have studied (like the blue jays, woodpeckers, sugar pinecone, carpenter ants, etc.). Quite often it is their first trip to the forest, which makes it memorable for them. Not only is it a science lesson dealing with animals and their habitats, but it also ties into our language arts. In our curriculum, we read a story about a class that goes on a field trip to the forest called ‘The Forest.’”
Another teacher, Donna Bryant said, “The students gain an appreciation and respect for nature, such as being careful not to step on insects, or pull leaves off trees and plants. They also learn how to travel on a bus with other students, as well as go without snacks and available restrooms. Expectations for first graders are very high these days, and the kiddos at Fair Oaks always rise to the occasion and shine brightly.”
Most students were awed by the giant trees, exclaiming with delight at each new tree, whether it was twisting into the sky or felled on the forest floor, although there were a few, such as young Kaleb, who said, “I’d thought the trees would be bigger, but it’s fun and I like them.”
The trip also represented an opportunity for parents to get involved, too.
“I enjoy inviting the parents to join us,” teacher Kimberly Harris said. “Some parents are not able to help on a weekly basis, but they can join us on a field trip. I enjoy watching the students explore and verbalize what they see.”
The students walked the trail and enjoyed a picnic lunch with friends before packing up and returning to Oakdale with their minds filled with memories and their notebooks scribbled with drawings of what they’d seen.
Teacher Jill Mansfield said, “I enjoy seeing the kids’ faces when they look up at the Giant Redwood Trees for the first time. They are always amazed. I think the students gain perspective about how big things can really be. I also think for some this is the first time they have experienced a forest type habitat so it is fun for them to see the bugs, birds, and plants that grow in this environment. We also talk about how to take care of the forest by staying on trails and not littering.”