The music of the outdoors is now splashing into the lives of the students of D.T. Cox thanks to the time and effort of Susan Brown, who teaches music at the school. She happened on this quiet spot of nature almost by accident one December day.
“While on a walk to the dumpster back in December, I noticed there was a wooded area behind our school. I entered it a bit and noticed it was pretty open and I thought to myself that it would be a nice little place for the kids to walk outside. These thoughts of getting outside were particularly on my mind as it had been a hard ending to the semester; so many people were sick with Covid and many students were getting quarantined,” Brown said. “I was very sad and wanted things to be normal for our students. I wanted them to have something fun to do and not have to wear a mask.”
Brown asked her principal, Dr. Peel who owned the land “and she said she thought it was ours. I told her my idea and she loved it! “
Dr. Peel assured her that they could make it happen. Brown said that an aerial survey was obtained, “and we were pleased to see that there were many acres included in our own backyard!”
Excitement began to build as Brown thought of all the things the trail could do to enhance the student’s lives. “I saw a need for the trail initially as an opportunity for students to get out of the building during Covid precautions; to maybe even get the chance to take off their masks and breathe in some fresh air! In addition, the trail is an opportunity for students to get some physical activity! There is such a need for kids to get outdoors and move! Many of our students just don’t get the chance to play and explore outside.”
And it is not just the exercise part of it the trail will serve as an outdoor classroom for all subjects. “When I created the signage for the trail, I took the State Science Standards and applied them to the 23 interactive signs we’re having made. Students will be able to see first hand the objectives and standards they are expected to learn.
“Some of the things they’ll get to see are examples of a floodplain, temperate forest, erosion, and water cycle examples to name a few. They will be able to do hands on activities in one of two outdoor classrooms. I’m so excited about them being able to touch and see concepts in real life as opposed to just reading about it in a textbook and seeing a picture!
“In addition, we hope to incorporate the trail into other classes as well. For example, English classes can observe nature and write about it. In math class, students can measure a tree and apply a formula to determine how old the tree is. ELA classes can learn translated vocabulary words. Art classes can use digital photography! Music classes can observe and record outdoor nature sounds! The educational opportunities are endless!
“Because we strive to be a District of Innovation, we hope to use the trail to spark interest in the career of Forestry which is large opportunity here in our state. We are also excited to provide the students with a physical activity opportunity as well- there are several terrain changes and they will definitely get some exercise as they walk the trail!
“Lastly, we hope that whole families will utilize the trail and that it will create an outlet for some fun quality family time as they engage together on the trail,” she said.
But getting the trail from woods to something the students could use required work. Because of covid restrictions the students couldn’t get out and work on it. Instead Brown coordinated with Pontotoc’s Master Gardeners, the City of Pontotoc, Woodmen of the World and Ashley Furniture to get funding and machinery and the muscles it took to do the work.
“We’ve had help from our local Master Gardeners and the city has brought in some larger equipment to clear out some brush. The Master Gardeners were key in helping at the initial outset of trail planning. They provided knowledge of how to properly clear out unwanted vines and the best way to tackle the project from the start. Our Master Gardener friends also had connections with people from the City who could help with tasks that were too big for us to tackle by hand. In addition, the Master Gardeners provided physical labor of clearing out our main entrance; they removed thick vines, small trees and bushes, and cleared out trash,” Brown noted.
She also reached out to the MSU Extension office for help.
“Mr. James Shannon, Extension Agent, was the first person I contacted when the project was conceived. He helped tremendously by giving suggestions on how to lay out the trail, giving us resource contacts for various aspects of planning, and he also helped begin identifying trees that we could make identification signage for,” Brown enthused.
“Our Woodmen of the World grant provided funds to create the sidewalk from the parking lot to the trailhead. We had a spring workday to create the path and while we were working, neighbors to DT Cox-Mr. and Mrs. Norman Jones- came over to see what we were doing. Mr. Jones commented he could help and immediately went to get a Bobcat to help clear off more space! It was a true moment of neighbors coming together!”
Brown said their largest benefactor has been Ashley Furniture. “They have provided us with a very generous grant with funds that will cover the costs of bridges, landscaping, signage, informational kiosks and other supportive educational materials. We could not have opened the trail without their funding. Additionally, we are proud that we have been able to use local businesses to purchase many of our materials and we are grateful to Image Signs and Peeples Building Materials for granting us educational discounts on their bids.”
The trail is an approximate one mile loop. There are two entrances; the main one being at the edge of the gravel parking lot closest to the church. The trail continues through the woods in the back- with a few water crossings and changes in landscape- varying from vines to deciduous forest to pine forest. The trail continues up and out behind the softball field; so you can also enter or exit on that side. Or you can choose to re-cross the small creek and loop back to the way you came in. It is well marked with neon flagging tape and arrow markers. The trail officially opened last Friday, April 30.
Brown said this trail was the result of a winters day in the middle of a pandemic. “There have been many terrible things that have come from the pandemic….but this trail was born because of it. It is a beautiful silver lining.”