A group of parents, teachers, administrators and representatives from local organizations are working to enhance the trail system at the Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai.
Behind Kaleidoscope lies Kenai Peninsula Borough land with a beautiful trail, said Josselyn O’Conner, a parent volunteer with the habitat committee for the project.
While O’Conner said there has been an interest in improving the area for years, the committee only came together a few months ago to propel the project forward.
The project is funded through U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Schoolyard Habitat Program, which works to connect people with nature, said Cheryl Anderson, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Kenai Fish and Wildlife Field Office.
“Because we have so much more space than a lot of other schools in the Lower 48 we have a huge opportunity here to really utilize that space in a really cool way,” Anderson said.
About 15 people make up the core team of the committee. Parents, teachers and school administrators are working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Kenai Watershed Forum.
O’Conner said the group is in steps two and three of the process — site assessment and designing the project, which will be followed by installation.
The committee has included students from all grades at Kaleidoscope by doing brainstorming activities for ideas of how to enhance the area, she said.
O’Conner said the students’ ideas range from simple projects like planting bushes to attract certain birds and clearing areas for reflection to more elaborate ideas like covered observation decks.
An observation deck is beyond the committee’s funding from Fish and Wildlife, she said; the group would have to raise money for large-scale features.
Some of the students would like to see outdoor musical instruments incorporated, so the committee is looking at ways to make that a reality.
“We’re shooting for the moon,” O’Conner said. “We’ve got some really big grand ideas, but we’re going to start small and do a few of them this spring and into this summer. And then really tackle the bigger projects and pulling the resources together for the bigger projects later this fall.”
She said the committee is planning field trips this month to some of other schools on the Peninsula that have utilized the program to see how they enhanced their sites. Elementary schools that have worked on projects include: Tustumena, Seward, West Homer and Sterling.
Anderson said projects that have been initiated at other schools have been well received.
Many of the schools have looked at enhancing existing trails, like Kaleidoscope, or developing trails. The trails are used year-round for winter skiing, animal tracking, summer walks and bird and small mammal watching. Some schools set up bird boxes or weather stations for classes or quiet places for reading and writing, she said.
“Instead of trying to explain to them, plants and plant growth, you can show them,” Anderson said. “It’s much more easier to learn when you have hands-on and you can actually see something and watch something over time.”
Once the master plan is complete, O’Conner said the committee plans to reach out to members of the community who live within a few blocks of the school to help with the project.
“We want them to know that we want them included in this project as they want to be because ultimately what we’re doing is creating a space for the community not just the school,” O’Conner said. “And having their support and buy-in for this will lead to greater things down the road.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.