By Lydian Kennin and Terry Miller
According to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s (ISDA) website, Indiana’s Hardwood Sector has an annual economic impact of over $10 billion and supports 70,000 jobs. Hardwood trading is a vital industry for the state, making education on forest management and ecology important for the health of this renewable resource.
Indiana Woods on Wheels is an interactive traveling exhibit that debuted in 2021 by the work of Sara High, Woods on Wheels Operator and Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester. This mobile resource targets visitors of all ages, intending to educate both children and adults about the benefits of Indiana’s Hardwoods and how these trees support native wildlife. Woods on Wheels also highlights the many industries that rely on the state’s native Hardwoods to create familiar products.
The mobile exhibit is housed in a trailer pulled by a pickup truck that was funded courtesy of sponsor Cole Hardwood. At each Woods on Wheels event, visitors are given an immersive tour of the 40-foot trailer with the expertise of a Woods on Wheels forester. The inside is fitted with interactive displays and lined with images of Indiana’s beautiful forests. The walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with fun facts about the state’s most abundant renewable resource. For example, visitors can learn that cellulose from trees are used to make ping pong balls, High said.
The traveling exhibit has a goal of meeting the needs of its various audiences, including high school students eager to explore forestry career options, landowners needing expertise, and fact-seeking members of the public.
The lesson plans offered by Woods on Wheels are courtesy of Project Learning Tree and Purdue University’s “The Nature of Learning,” and are designed to teach children of various learning levels the forest’s function and usefulness. These lesson plans are publicly available on the ISDA’s website and can be printed by teachers for use in the classroom. Example lesson plans include: “How baby bear’s chair was made,” how to identify Midwestern trees, and the details of forest ecology.
High began the operation after working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for over a year and a half.
“I’ve been trying hard to make this something that’s beneficial to all,” High said. “I have so many opportunities to make it more than just an elementary age level education.”
High helps Indiana landowners with forest management by evaluating the ecology of their property and returning feedback to ensure the health and usefulness of the land. The ISDA website also offers landowner resources courtesy of Purdue with helpful information in many areas of forestry, including: log and tree scaling, tips on attracting butterflies, and how to recognize invasive plant species.
“A lot of times, it was a game-changer for these landowners, because they were in it for just a few purposes and didn’t really care about it– or, they really did but they just didn’t know what to do,” High explained.
To High, the importance of Indiana’s Hardwoods is understated. “Indiana’s forestry industry is actually the number one AG Industry in the state,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think about that.”
The collaborators intend for Woods on Wheels to frequently visit all 92 Indiana counties. This new exhibit will be made available at no expense to Indiana elementary school programs as well as public events throughout the state through October 2021.
Woods on Wheels is a project made possible by the collaborative efforts of the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association (IHLA), Purdue: Forestry & Natural Resources Department, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources with the support of the state’s Hardwoods industry.
Additional information, including guidelines, resources, and an event request form can be found at www.in.gov or by contacting Sara High, Woods on Wheels Operator, Indiana Department of Natural Resources at 765-516-3000 or email shigh@dnr.IN.gov.