Vanderbilt students assist with skipping plastic this Earth Day | Gaylord

VANDERBILT — The average American family household goes through about 500 plastic bags each year, according to Emily Vogelgesang, a local AmeriCorps member with Huron Pines. To offset some of that plastic waste, Vanderbilt Area School students are giving patrons a reason to say “Paper please!” at the grocery store.

Vogelgesang recently brought Vanderbilt students a gift of brown paper bags to decorate with the plan being that the bags would be taken to Village Market, 8114 Mill St., for customer purchases this weekend.

“This particular project is part of a larger effort to have these place-based education programs,” Vogelgesang said. “(It’s) essentially getting kids outside and knowing about the natural world but knowing about the natural world that’s right behind their school, not in the rainforest.”

Elementary students participated in the Earth Day Bag Project. Students learned about where plastic bags and plastic waste ends up as well as how plastic breaks down into small pieces from sun and hot or cold temperature exposure.

Vogelgesang said other schools had done a similar project along the Lake Huron coast in places like Alpena and Huron Pines wanted to apply the concept further inland.

Younger students aren’t the only ones working with Huron Pines. Vanderbilt High School students are also working on a project.

Matt Saunders, VAS fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, said one year ago he found out the school had a large forest, and since then, he said, the school is working to groom and create trails to make the area more accessible.

“I want to clean it up so the community can use it,” Saunders said. “And through Huron Pines, through the management of it, I want to make it an asset for the school — something that generations are going to use.”

In the early 1900s, schools in Michigan were each allotted 40 acres from the state to manage as they decided, Vogelgesang said. VAS has its original 40 acres, plus an additional 40 that were donated, she said.

Many of the existing school forests, Vogelgesang said, are not connected to the school grounds.

“The cool thing about Vanderbilt is they don’t have to get on a bus to get to their school forest,” Vogelgesang said. “Every school in Michigan has, or at one point had, a school forest if they’ve held onto it or not.”

The school has worked on clearing some trails while the high school students have been busy learning how to identify trees and vegetation in parts of the forest.

“They are collecting data for us to develop a forest stewardship plan which is (something) a private landowner would have that done by a (forester) and that essentially tells you what is appropriate to do with this land,” Vogelgesang said. “Huron Pines is writing this plan for the school so that the forest is a usable resource.”

There are 10 students identifying trees and…

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