Lycoming County officials christened a new classroom on Friday.
The Conservation Learning Trail, located at the county farm at the Lysock View Complex in Loyalsock Township, is a classroom without walls designed to teach people about conservation and nature.
"This is really a playground for the mind," said Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland.
Above, people enter the Conservation Learning Trail after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"The goal was to provide a location school groups could come to and learn about conservation - land conservation and water conservation," said Carey Entz-Rine, county Conservation District watershed technician.
About 100 people showed up for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and afterward, most of them took a guided tour of the 1.1 mile trail.
The trail was paid for through a state Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Education grant. The county's share of the project cost was covered by revenue from a timber sale on the property.
That timber sale, which was performed under the guidance of state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources service forester Jason Smith, was the inspiration for the trail.
After the timber was harvested, a deer exclosure was installed to allow the wood lot to rejuvenate.
Wheeland thought creating a trail to the exclosure would provide educational opportunities for students and adults. A wide range of conservation practices and improvements already had been implemented at the county farm and the trail seemed to be a natural extension of those efforts, Wheeland said.
The county secured the DEP grant, which was administered by the Conservation District, and work began to construct the trail using county and Conservation District staff and interns from Bloomsburg University and Lycoming College.
"It's everything I had envisioned," Wheeland said of the finished trail.
The trail traverses a variety of terrains, crosses a small stream and winds uphill through the woods to the deer enclosure and loops around it. Near the enclosure is an overlook above Loyalsock Creek. The view from the overlook currently is obscured by trees, but once the leaves fall, the creek will be visible, said Megan Lehman, county environmental planner.
It also contains tree identification markers and a section called "Invasive Alley," an area where many types of invasive species can be viewed. Interpretive signs are located along the trail. One of them, which is situated in an area overlooking the farm, describes the conservation practices in place there.
Those practices include rotational grazing, riparian buffers, off-stream watering for livestock and stream bank fencing. The farm is transitioning to a no-till cropping system, said Mark Davidson, Conservation District manager.
Those in attendance during the ribbon-cutting ceremony had high praise for the county's efforts.
"We are happy to be part of this," said Dan Vilello, government liaison for the DEP's northcentral regional office. "Our staff works every day for days like this."
Grant money is hard to come by, but the agency was confident the money dedicated to the trail would be put to good use, Vilello said.
"Because of the track record Lycoming County has, we knew we were going to get the project done," he said.
Jack Farster, DEP director of environmental education, said he knows first-hand how a learning trail can impact a young person's life. Farster said he was in his early 20s when he hiked a learning trail and determined that day that he wanted to make a career of environmental education.
That moment "has directed my career ever since," he said, adding that he is confident the trail will impact others in a similar way.
DCNR District Forester Jeff Prowant said the trail allows people of all ages to access and view a working forest on a small scale.
According to Lehman, many people and organizations deserve praise for the trail, but he said Entz-Rine and Mila Robinson, county environmental planner, deserve much of the credit for shepherding it to completion.
Lehman called the two women "the queens of the trail."
"We wouldn't be here if it weren't for them," she said.
"I think it's great," said Carol Depp, of Loyalsock Township, who hiked the trail with her husband Raymond. "We've lived here 41 years and I've never been to the county farm, so that was interesting, too."
Depp said she and her husband would like to get involved in maintaining the trail. That is just the kind of reaction Wheeland said he hopes the trail will elicit.
Wheeland said he hopes individuals, scouting groups and civic organizations will become stewards of the trail.
"It all depends on you, not government, to keep this trail fresh, modern and up-to-date," he said.
The county farm is the only working county farm left in the state. Wheeland called it "the forgotten campus of Lycoming County" prior to the improvements. Now, it is a showcase of good farming practices.
Michael Sherman, director of the county Farm Service Agency, which maintains an office in the complex, said the farm is a showroom for the conservation practices his agency promotes.
"It makes my job easier," Sherman said. "While I'm talking about programs, the examples are right here."
The trail is open from dawn to dusk and is accessible from the Lysock View visitor's parking area.