The first school forest in Wisconsin and the United States will mark the 50th anniversary of its dedication on Friday, May 5, 1978, with a program beginning at 1 p.m. at the forest site one mile south of Laona on Highway 32.
The Laona School Forest began as an idea to promote a program to turn idle acres into forest production. Motivated by the suggestion of Dean H.L. Russell of the College of Agriculture and the stimulation of the Forest County land use planning committee, the people of this county adopted the idea of a school forests.
The land on which the Laona school forest now stands was owned by the State of Wisconsin until 1896. The tract changed hands three times before it was purchased by Mr. Kokot who logged it off in 1921-22. At the annual town meeting in 1927, the electors of Laona voted to appropriate the necessary money to purchase a school forest. An 80 acre tract of land was purchased for $1,100 by the town board from Anton Kokot of Laona and this land was presented to the Laona school board. The tract was dedicated as a school forest on April 27, 1928.
In 1928 the area was covered with blackened stumps and a few trees left by previous fires and cutting. The tract included rough and stony upland and swamp.
The past 50 years have seen many changes come about in this school forest, which today is an active part of the Laona school system. Some of the first trees planted are now over eighteen inches in diameter.
A forest management plan has been made up by the Forestry Division of the D.N.R. and this is followed closely. In 1963 the forest was thinned and proceeds from this cutting are used to send students to the Trees for Tomorrow Camp at Eagle River. More thinning took place in 1973.
The conservation classes at the high school have built an informative nature trail through the forest. Rustic cedar bridges cross Swanson’s Creek in two places, steps have been built where needed; signs have been put up describing natural features. Other activities of conservation class in the forest are surveying, building brush piles for wildlife, stream improvement, trimming trees, thinning, planting trees and keeping records of tree growth. A log cabin has also been constructed in the forest. Not only conservation class, but other classes benefit from this “outdoor classroom”, as elementary school and high school students study soils, trees, insect life, plant life and other phases of ecology there.
This year, as in previous years since the first dedication, the program marking the anniversary will feature speeches, a skit by students and commemorative tree planting. The public is welcome to attend and special invitations are being issued to a number of persons still in the area who were attending school at Laona when the school forest was dedicated back in 1928.
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