The Marian Case Nature Classroom at Case Estates – Update
Weston will soon get its first official outdoor classroom–the Marian Case Nature Classroom at Case Estates. Once the snows clear, and a final risk assessment is complete, volunteers from the local landscape company, schools and non-profits (and maybe even you, dear reader) will complete the “installation.”
Last October, the Marian Case Nature Classroom was proposed for a large open area on the town-owned Case Estates land, with the objective of creating a woodland learning area that could be enjoyed by children and adults. There are three elementary schools within ¼ mile walking distance from the location. Other nearby interest groups for the outside space are Land’s Sake (sustainable forestry education), Council on Aging (outdoor classes), Weston Public Library (authors and programs about the outdoors), Recreation (nature walks and summer camp), as well as Weston Forest & Trail Association which could use the area as the starting spot for monthly walks.
At the November 10, 2020 Select Board meeting, the project was approved with the understanding that there would be no cost to the town in either materials or (wo)man hours – both would be donated. The 52-foot diameter circle in the trees would be covered by donated wood chips (thank you, Weston Landscape and Phil Jones!), and seating would be made from cutting up fallen trees in the area into “seating stumps”. The materials are all-natural, and in time, the forest may take back the area–which is in itself an important lesson about nature.
Shortly after the November meeting, the project suffered a setback when the Case Estates consultant grew concerned about whether an outdoor classroom could be termed as “passive recreation” or if there need to be further research done on the ability of kids to use the property under the existing Activity and Use Limitation (AUL). The area in question had been fully remediated with pesticide-tinged earth being removed and large amounts of clean fill put in.
Further risk assessment was deemed necessary to confirm safe use of the land, especially by children. The estimated cost of a formal opinion from Arcadis was $1,100 (and was recently re-adjusted upward to $1,300). With the onset of winter, and the need to find a source of these funds, all work was stopped on the Classroom.
In late January 2021, SB Chair Laurie Bent and consultant Michael Harrity decided that the project was important to the town and prioritized the risk management assessment funding. At the Select Board meeting on January 26, the Select Board voted to authorize funds from leftover monies for Case Estates improvement. Arcadis has yet to provide a set date for its risk assessment opinion, but there are hopes that it will arrive in time for a March-April work party (small party–Covid) that will bring in donated wood chips, and cut stumps for seating from existing downed trees.
With luck and good weather, and town support of the last few steps, Weston will be the proud caretaker of a woodlands Nature Classroom in early spring.