School forest prairie dedicated to former teacher who created it
A former Stevens Point Area Public School teacher will be forever memorialized in a dedication at Boston School Forest.
School district officials dedicated the Boston School Forest prairie – which she helped create and maintain – to Former Environmental Education Coordinator Karen Dostal Friday, June 17.
“I feel very honored,” Dostal said. “It was a surprise, they’re very thoughtful people.”
It was a small ceremony shared with a few state and district officials, former educators and Dostal’s family, followed by cake and lemonade on a beautiful sunny summer day at the forest.
Dostal helped unveil the sign that designates the dedication, and her mouth dropped when she saw the fence-like post designed like a bird house with butterfly carvings and a large sign with the words “Kari’s Prairie” at the top.
The piece has a picture of two coneflowers next to this inscription: “This prairie is dedication to Karen Dostal, environmental education coordinator at Boston School Forest from 2012-2015. Because of her dedication and leadership, students in the Stevens Point Area School District continue to learn from and enjoy the forest. Kari’s Prairie was established in 2004 and dedicated June 7, 2016, honoring Karen’s passion for teaching children about nature.”
The sign sits at the front edge of the prairie, which was created by Dostal and school district students a dozen years ago.
“It’s beautiful,” Don Keck, district buildings and grounds manager, said of the priaire. “It’s a great addition to the School Forest.”
“She has made some amazing contributions to the field of environmental education and greatly increased students’ knowledge and experience with the natural world,” said current school forest coordinator Karla Lockman.
Dostal took over the position from Sally Ellingboe in 2002 (the school forest pond previously was dedicated to Ellingboe for her years and accomplishments with the forest) and just one year later she received a grant for $18,000 from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board to fund the development of a sustainable forestry management plan to promote biodiversity.
In 2004, she worked with fifth-grade students and a Jackson School teacher to take down trees in a small area of the property to create a prairie to better teach students about different ecosystems. It is this prairie that now carries her name.
“Karen was constantly looking for ways to improve facilities and opportunities at the forest for students,” said Gretchen Marshall, Wisconsin School Forest Program coordinator. “The creation of Kari’s Prairie allows students to see a diversity of habitats beyond the forest and pond during their visit.”
There are 247 school districts in the state that own 413 different school forest properties. Marshall said Stevens Point is fortunate that it is among a handful that offer daily school forest programming with classroom space, overnight facilities and a full-time coordinator.
In that position, Dostal thrived, those in attendance said.
“Karen was instrumental in finding grants and volunteers to add new experiences to the forest property,” Marshall said. “Karen also freely gave of her time and ideas when any school forest educator from another district would have a question. She was a great resource and help to others in our statewide school forest community.”
Among other efforts, Dostal brought fine arts into the forest through work with international and local artists to create pieces such as the spheres and the totem pole, which was lost in last week’s storm. (Upon learning of the loss Friday, Dostal jumped right in and offered to get back in contact with those she worked with previously to get a replacement.)
She organized the 70th anniversary of the Boston School Forest, family cross country ski and snowshoe events, the Boston School Forest Earth Day and solar celebration as well as Discovery Center in Oelke Lodge. She began the 4K program at the school forest and also worked with local Eagle Scouts to create natural play areas.
“She left her stamp on so many things here,” Lockman said.
Dostal also was named School Forest Administrator of the Year in 2007.
She said she does miss the children and people who have visited the forest, but she is glad to see how the forest and the prairie continues to evolve.
“The goal was to teach children how the land changes over time,” she said. “The changes might be natural, they might be changes man made (like the prairie burn conducted in spring 2015) … as well as a teaching piece to learn the value of prairies and native plants.”
According to those who remain to benefit, Dostal has done just that.