The Minnesota School Forest Program is a partnership between the Minnesota DNR and Minnesota schools. The program provides a variety of benefits to increase outdoor education activities. Housed in DNR Forestry, the program works closely with the Stewardship, Community and Urban Forestry, Project Learning Tree, Project WILD, Project WET, and many other programs. The School Forest Program is currently the recipient of an Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund grant to allow the program to expand and provide greater support services statewide.
Dr. C.V. Hobson, a former Bemidji State University geography professor and state legislator, is credited with creating the school forest concept. He campaigned for the passage of the School Forest Law (Minnesota Statutes, section 89.41), which authorizes public education institutions to establish and maintain school forests. The law was passed in 1949. The first School Forest was designated in 1950 in Blackduck. The program encourages educators to teach outdoors, supports schools to extend the classroom into the outdoors, and advises on forest management. Often school forest sites are highly visible examples of healthy forests used for education and community recreation.
Over the years the program has changed periodically to meet the needs of Minnesota's schools. Currently there are more than 120 school forests ranging in size from less than one acre to 300 acres for a total of more than 7,200 acres. School forests across the state include rural and urban sites, involve public and private schools, and reach preschool through university students. No matter the school, all school forest sites are working toward the same goal of connecting students to the natural world while building student confidence, sense of community, skills, and knowledge.
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Governor Mark Dayton highlights the School Forest Program as a 2011–2013 biennium education accomplishment.
The School Forest Program is one of the governor's 11 education highlights, which represent the progress in providing Minnesota's students and workforce with the skills they need to be successful in today's economy. The School Forest Program was chosen for supporting 2,000 teachers and 30,000 students learning core subjects in outdoor settings.
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).