Jersey City Joint Activities Experiences a Winter Wonderland at NJSOC

Stephanie Sherman

AmeriCorps member, Danny Cramer, leads hike during a Black Bear Ecology class.

While many students were enjoying a late start to school on Monday December 9th thanks to a snowstorm, the New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC) was welcoming the students from the Jersey City Joint Activities Program. They were greeted by glittering bare trees coated in ice and snow covered evergreen trees as they made their way to the team building activities of the Action Socialization Experiences. With a little road grit, extra layers of clothes, and some teamwork, all of the students made the most of the cool wintery day as they completed each station’s trial.

From there it was off to their afternoon classes. On the agenda for the day was a bit of Plant Life, where students learned about the life cycles of plants and the importance of pollinators for flowers – especially the flowers of our food crops that supply us all with nourishment.  Then it was a hike outside to discuss fascinating facts about both native plants, like the rhododendron whose leaves curl in the cold to predict the temperature, and foreign plants, like Japanese barberry that out-competes other plants for space and sun. The students’ final test was to identify a New Jersey “winter weed.”  Back in the classroom they were rewarded with handmade bookmarks with pressed flowers. After their afternoon classes, it was time for dinner and a dance in Big Timbers, where the fireplace is always warm with a glowing fire for every meal.

The next morning the students awoke to another surprise. Snow! However snow days are just like any other day here at NJSOC. Classes continued and Conservation Photography took the opportunity to capture the falling snowflakes and white winter landscapes. Black Bear Ecology hiked out into the quiet trails of Stokes State Forest looking for bear tracks and investigating abandoned black bear dens. Nevertheless, the only tracks reported were the hopping footprints of rabbits, snow birds and squirrels. The snow added an extra element to the Confidence Course with its icy wires and every student learned not only to challenge themselves but to support their friends both emotionally and physically. Regardless of the cold, it was a beautiful day to be in the forest and it was an even more exciting evening for a snowy night hike! Everyone made it back with the help of their flashlights where they gathered in front of a warm fire and watched a great movie before bed.

It was the morning of Jersey City’s last day and even though they would have to say good-bye to the snow-covered woods, there was still time for one last class. What better way to reward students who have hiked through the snow and climbed icy elements but to spend a morning in a log cabin with a piping hot wood stove? The kids saw how the early American settlers would have lived in the winter, taking part in typical chores that children would have done in order to help their family survive. Each student took a turn to chop wood for the stove and helped to churn butter for the homemade cornbread they would share fresh from the frying pan.  Every student had a little taste of the past, along with some of NJSOC’s maple syrup, and looked forward to their own warm homes as they waved goodbye from the bus windows. We look forward to seeing them again in 2014.