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Forestry in your own backyard

An Overview of the Summer 2016 Teachers' Tour The BC Festival of Forestry is a non-profit organization committed to providing quality professional development experiences for school teachers. In our 2016 summer program we tried something we’d never done before. We called it, Forestry in your back yard. Many of the teachers who join our tours are from the Lower Mainland and often return from a tour asking how they can share their forest experience with their students. You don’t have to go far from Vancouver to find a forest—so this year we decided to host a tour in our own backyard. It was still an adventure—but an adventure where our teachers can take their students to follow in their footsteps.

Teachers gather on day one of the tour


This year’s tour hosts were Brenda Martin and Sandy McKellar. They arrived early July 6th at the King George Skytrain station to meet up with the teachers joining them on the tour. The sun was shining, everyone found their way and was accounted for. With luggage and supplies loaded into the bus, they waved goodbye to Russ Paton (from Evans Lake Forestry Camp) who organized the bus, and started off on a three-day adventure.

The day’s itinerary started off at the Surrey Nature Centre at Green Timbers. Still getting to know one another, the teachers were greeted by Program Coordinator, Bree Green. Bree runs youth programs at the Centre and is passionate about outdoor learning. While touring the extensive grounds at Green Timbers, Bree had the teachers engage in hands-on activities designed for kids to learn about local ecosystems.

We started with an exercise in trust and texture! With teachers paired-off, Bree blindfolded one participant and the other was instructed to lead their partner to a near by tree. Here the blindfolded teachers fondled, sniffed and circled their tree in an attempt to guess the species. After they felt they had sufficient information, they were led back to the centre of the small forested area (with much twirling and back-tracking to throw them off where they’d been) and instructed to remove their blindfold and looking around - locate the tree they’d just engaged with. It was a great way for the group to get to know one another.

Next, everyone was given two coloured paint chips - the kind you get at a paint store. The idea was to identify the colours of nature and find natural objects that matched the colours in the chips.

After several more engaging activities, the teachers were loaded back into the bus to visit the Tree Seed Centre in South Surrey.

The Tree Seed Centre is the primary provider of cone and seed services to B.C.’s forest industry. Heather Rooke and Dave Kolotelo were our next hosts. They met us outside the centre to provide an overview and some safety instructions before we went inside. The centre is a high security facility that protects millions of seeds stored in their fridges and deep freezes.

One highlight of the tour was stepping inside the -40 degree deep freeze where seeds were stored.

Seeds are not only stored at the centre, they undergo significant testing to determine germination rates, hardiness, etc. Teachers were shown the economic impact of seeds sourced from orchards compared to those harvested on site from active forest management areas.

After the Seed Centre, we arrived at Baron’s Pub in Surrey for lunch. The staff were great, especially as we were late for our reservation, but they still managed to get us fed and on our way in time for our afternoon appointments.

After lunch, we made our way to PowerWood Corp to explore the value-added side of cedar manufacturing. Jake Power was our host, and walked the group through his manufacturing facilities. Jake’s passion for his business was evident from the start. Young and full of energy, he shared personal stories like taking his wife on vacation to buy a new piece of processing equipment, and selecting a custom colour to paint his new dust collection system. After experiencing the deep freeze of the seed centre, Jake countered the cold by taking everyone inside his dry kiln, where the temperatures were well above 45 degrees.

After a big first day, we finally arrived at our hotel and the teachers were given an hour to put their feet up and relax before dinner. The Sheraton Guilford is a lovely facility, with large rooms and pleasant meeting spaces.

Dinner was hosted at Bistro 72 in a private dining room. A delicious French inspired meal was followed by Goody-bags. Brenda and Sandy reviewed the wide range of materials that each participant was taking back with them to their classrooms. Once they were done, they handed the floor to Bill Bourgeois who spoke to the teachers about the programs he is involved with.


Day two of the tour arrived with overcast skies and a forecast for rain - but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits as we enjoyed a huge breakfast buffet and loaded everything back into the bus.

First on the itinerary was the PRT Nursery in Pitt Meadows. After visiting the seed centre, teachers were well prepped for seeing the next stage in the reforestation process. Jody Branter walked us through the planting and growing process. He talked about light and bud burst and pests, answering lots of questions along the way. Although it poured rain, the greenhouses were snug and dry inside!

Bundled back into the bus, we made our way to the Old Wharf in Maple Ridge to meet with Cheryl Power from the UBC Malcolm Knapp Research Forest. Cheryl gave a great overview of forestry in the area as well as sharing her own personal story about how she became a forester and how much she loves what she does. The teachers were troopers, standing in the rain beside the river - enjoying a true west coast experience!

We warmed up with lunch at the Billy Miner Pub, and had a bit more time to talk to Cheryl where it was dry and easier to hear. With bellies full and jackets almost dry we departed for another manufacturing tour - this one a primary breakdown facility for cedar - the Interfor Hammond Mill. An interesting contrast to PowerWood who take the rough lumber and turn it into finished product, Hammond takes the logs from the forest and converts them into lumber.

It’s a huge operation, and an amazing mill to visit because everything is BIG! The logs coming into the main line were old-growth cedar. Our guides, Alex Wagstaff and ?? showed the group how lasers and computers are used to increase the value and wood recovery from every log. The choreography of all the moving parts is impressive.

Wrapping up at the mill, we settled in for a long drive to Squamish. Traffic allowed for a bit of down-time at the hotel before we departed to Evans Lake Forest Education Camp for dinner. The camp staff had prepared a BBQ dinner for us, and Russ Paton, the camp president was an engaging host and shared the Evans Lake experience with the group. The take home message was that Evans Lake is a great place for teachers to bring their classes to learn more about the forest.

DAY THREE The final day of the tour was essentially the meat of the forestry sandwich. We’d seen the seeds and the nursery, and we’d seen the logs and finished product, now we were headed into the forest to see how trees are grown, managed, harvested and sorted for market.

Jeff Fisher must have done a rain dance, because even though the clouds remained, we were never really rained on the whole day. Jeff is a forester in Squamish and works for Sqomish Forestry LP - a partnership between the Squamish First Nation and Garibaldi Forest Products.

Teachers were treated to an active logging show, and were giving the opportunity to climb inside some of the equipment in the field. Hiking along logging roads, past recent harvests we learned how forests are harvested, the long planning process that is involved and the layers of values and priorities that must be considered and managed by forest professionals.

We walked by old decomposing stumps nursing new hemlock and cedar saplings, and we saw new forests with healthy vigorously growing trees that will one day tower above the land as their predecessors did.

The day finished with Barry Simpson at his dry land sort. We learned how logs are graded and sorted for brokers and customers. We also learned that there’s no such thing as a raw log. From the standing trees in the forest to loading wood into trucks for transport, many hands and tremendous value is placed on every log. They are custom selected, bucked, and sorted based on finished product and customer.

It was a full program, and teachers were ready to climb back into the bus at the end of the day. Some napped, others chatted with new friends as we made our way back to Vancouver.

We are always sad to say goodbye, but we know that we have nurtured a new batch of teachers passionate about BC forests and revved up about taking what they’ve learned back into their classrooms. We look forward to hearing updates from them in the future.

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