Discover the Forest campaign kicks off
Forest Service helps children develop early interest in nature
The Discover the Forest campaign, headed by the Forest Service and Ad Council, is kicking off with the goal of inspiring children to develop an early interest in nature through their local National Forests and trails.
Joseph Koloski, district ranger for the Mark Twain National Forest, said the campaign aims to get children to experience the outdoors. The conversations parents and children can have on a trail are priceless, Koloski said.
“We want to encourage kids and parents to get on a trail, take a hike and just see what’s out there,” Koloski said. “There are health benefits to being in nature, and spending time together as families where you can just talk and not be plugged into electronics, that’s really important.”
The heart of the campaign is a 60-second video “Discover the Unsearchable,” which follows a father and daughter who decide to take a trip into the forest for a hike to answer questions she has about nature. The video focuses on the point that not every question can be answered by technology, but instead by experiencing nature and learning to watch and listen to the surrounding world.
Aside from children developing an interest in nature, which Koloski hopes will last a lifetime and help future generations engage with nature, there are also immediate benefits. He cited nature-deficit disorder, which isn’t a medical diagnosis, but a description of the damage that is generated by the separation of people and their natural environment.
“It’s important for kids to get outside and really understand nature and the environment around them,” Koloski said. “We have access to public lands and a number of recreational opportunities offered, and we encourage families to take advantage of.”
Darla Rein, natural resource specialist and recreation program manager for the district, offered information about local outdoor recreational opportunities near Cassville.
“In Cassville, we have 12 miles of trail in our Piney Creek Wilderness,” Rein said. “Wilderness areas are set apart from most other general forest areas because in a wilderness area you have foot and [horse] travel. In wilderness areas, there are no motorized or mechanized [vehicles].”
Rein said the public also has access to the Sugar Camp National Forest scenic byway, which is a road people can drive on with stops to take in scenic views. Families can access this on Forest Road 197, just north of Eagle Rock then travel west to Highway 112.
“There aren’t really any foot trails on this road,” Rien said. “But, people can walk the roads if they want to.”
The scenic byway can also be accessed just South of Highway 86, Rien said, with a paved road available until just North of Eagle Rock. There are also areas where the public can pull over to some picnic tables. On the Forest Road 197 portion of the scenic route, there is Sugar Camp Lookout, which is a fire tower with a picnic table near.
“You can’t climb the fire tower, but you can picnic there,” Rein said. “It’s a nice drive if you feel like hiking, and the route is gorgeous during this time of year when the leaves start changing.”
The Shell Knob recreation area has a special use permit with the Shell Knob Lions Club, and they help maintain that area.
“It’s a really neat area,” Rein said. “It was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The CCC built roads, planted trees and had a camp there. There is a pavilion there people can reserve, a short trail people can walk, a tennis court, which isn’t something the forest service normally offers, a playground and a really beautiful overlook people can use to look onto Table Rock Lake.”
Rein also said there is an app called “Avenza” people can download on a smartphone. The app offers users district maps that can be downloaded.
“You will be a little blue dot on the map so you will know where you are and where you are going,” Rein said. “People can also contact the forest service for maps that can be emailed to the public.”
There is no longer a campground off Highway YY, however, the public can access a boat ramp and picnic tables Table Rock Lake there.
“It’s very nice, and we are in the process in getting the boat ramp repaired,” Rein said.
According to Rein, the Forest Service will not be looking into any new projects in the foreseeable future.
“On the Forest Service roads in the Cassville area, people can use a UTV or ATV,” Rein said. “However, they do have to get a county permit in order to ride a UTV or ATV on those roads.”
The public can obtain a motor vehicle use map, which is free and available at the district office. The map will point out the legal Forest Service roads the public may use.
Rein also said school districts can contact the Forest Service for presentations to students, teaching them different things about the forest. The Forest Service can also host a field day for students.
“We try to get different aspects of the forest service involved,” Rein said. “We will bring timber people, fire people, wildlife and their botanist that can discuss non-native plants.”
The Ad Council said studies show 79 percent of children want to experience more outdoor adventures, however, only 59 percent of parents regularly visit a forest or park with their families.
“We need to get people aware that they have a national forest in their backyard — it’s just a treasure,” Rein said. “A lot of people, children and adults, don’t know the Mark Twain ational Forest is in their backyard. It’s a wonderful thing just to make people aware of that.”