Madison Shell gripped the T-shaped handle with all the force her8-year-old arms could muster. She twisted hard, turning theinstrument into the trunk of the dense Tamarack tree.
Madison was using an increment borer. It screws into a tree andextracts a cylinder of wood thinner than a pencil.
Madison counted the tree rings on the wood, learning the tree’s ageand, with her 11-year-old partner Faith Keelly, estimated thetree’s growth over the last 10 years.
The pair were two of a dozen Milton-Freewater area kids taking partin the STELLAR Summer Science Camp. The program is put on by theWalla Walla Basin Watershed Council.
Coordinator Bob Chicken teaches science to kids throughout theschool year, but during the summer he gets to take them to theforest where they can put their science lessons into action.
Two day camps and a four-day overnight camp make up the summerprogram. For the overnight stay, campers head to Camp Wooten inIdaho, where they join a 4-H camp going on there.
The camp provides a unique opportunity for Milton-Freewater kids,who don’t have an outdoor school like other districts, said TrishaShell, a teacher at Central Middle School who also helped organizethe camp.
After working with the kids during the school year, Chicken has akeen eye for those with an inquisitive nature who will likely enjoyand benefit most from the summer program, Shell said.
Thursday was a day camp. The kids trekked around the UmatillaNational Forest, making measurements and taking notes in their campjournals.
Though the kids get rambunctious when they are all in one group,when they separate into pairs to take their measurements theybecome scientists in their own right.
Isael Diaz, 11, and Deazen Zerba, 12, measured the slope of an areaby using a kilometer.
Deazen held the compass-sized device up to his eye and pointed itat Isael, who stood about 100 feet away. Inside the device, thenumber 10 told him the slope between the two boys was 10percent.
“I like doing this. It helps me learn about nature,” Isael said. “Ilike nature. The trees give us oxygen to live. I want to take careof nature.”
Deazen said he liked being in the woods. It reminded him of campingwith his family.
Chicken later helped Grace Ehrhardt, 8, and Hannah Hair, 11, withthe same exercise at a different spot. They, too, found a 10percent slope.
They also determined the aspect of the slope, or in which directionthe land slopes. Chicken directed Grace in moving her compass tothe precise direction. Grace found 106 degrees, or just barelysouth of east.
Chicken then asked the girls which slopes, north-facing orsouth-facing, would get more sunlight. The girls were stumped, soChicken put it a different way.
“If you faced the sun, would your face be warm or cold?”
“Warm,” the girls chimed back.
“And if you faced away, would it be warm or cold?”
“The back of your head would be cold,” they said.
South-facing slopes face the sun, so they are warmer, he explained.The girls nodded in comprehension and wrote down notes in theirjournals.
Grace said she liked the summer camp because she was able to hikelearn.
“I have fun discovering new things and learning how they work,” shesaid.
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