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Denbigh Day connects students and families to outdoors

DENBIGH – An opportunity to enjoy a unique outdoor setting is coming up Wednesday when the North Dakota Forest Service and USDA Forest Service host the third annual Denbigh Day at the Denbigh Experimental Forest.

This year’s event will celebrate public lands and Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday with two separate free events. An educational event will be held during the school day for students, and an evening event is scheduled for the public. Students and the public will learn about the history of the experimental forest, the plants and wildlife that live there and the professionals who manage it.

Families and interested adults are invited to bring picnic lunches and lawn chairs for a family-oriented evening meal and program. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. with an optional interpretive hike through the Arboretum loop. Casey Johnson, Sheyenne District Ranger with the USDA Forest Service, will give an overview of the Denbigh Experimental Forest’s history while folks are enjoying their meals. An outdoor showing of “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America,” a Forest Service documentary on the fires of 1910, starts at 6:30 p.m., with free Dutch oven kettle corn.

“We are trying to ramp it up a little bit as far as having something additional for folks,” Johnson said of the third-year event. Getting people out to Denbigh also is a way to showcase the outdoor activities that are available.

“What we really have been focusing on recently is improved opportunities for recreation. This is also the fourth season that we have had volunteer interpretive hosts stay at the cabin and provide information about the history and the opportunities,” Johnson said.

The forest offers a number of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, mountain biking or other non-motorized transportation. Trails are not groomed in the winter, but cross-country skiers are welcome. Bird watching is a another popular pastime. The forest hosts a Christmas bird count every year.

Information panels are in place throughout the forest. The forest has native grasses, shrubs and trees, predominantly aspen. In addition, 40 tree varieties were planted when the forest was developed at Denbigh in the 1930s, and about 30 of those have persisted, Johnson said.

“There’s quite the diversity,” he said. “You can walk through Denbigh and see species from all across the globe. It’s not just the North American continent. You have species from Asia and other places.”

About 189 students from five schools are expected to attend Wednesday’s day program. The program draws students from Bottineau to Minot. It has targeted sixth through eighth graders, but to maintain capacity as the program expands to more schools, the focus this year and going forward will be on eighth graders, Johnson said.

“Getting students onto their public lands to learn about sustainability is important,” Johnson said in a release about the event. “Connecting youth to their forests and grasslands can help instill a lifelong appreciation for the value that forests and grasslands represent for biodiversity, the environment, sustainable communities, recreation and their impact to our quality of life.”

Local students will engage during the day in active learning experiences regarding forest management and issues; the role of fire on the landscape; mapping and GPS; and multiple use principles and natural resource careers. Everyone will get to hike and explore the forest.

“We want students to see the relevance of their classroom studies to complex environmental issues and help acquire skills they’ll need to be creative problem solvers for a sustainable future,” Aubrey Davis, outreach and education manager for the North Dakota Forest Service, stated in the release.

Denbigh Experimental Forest is located about 32 miles east of Minot, along U.S. Highway 2.

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