Improving School Forest Outdoor Classrooms

CCM crew with class after buckthorn pull.


Help School Forests create inspiring, accessible, healthy and safe outdoor learning areas.


The School Forest Program received a grant from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) to complete projects at 60 School Forests to give schools the boost needed to improve their outdoor classrooms to be better environments for outdoor learning. The ENRTF grant covers the costs of a crew from the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCM) to do the "heavy lifting" on projects that your School Forest has not been able to do. This includes all of the tools and equipment necessary to get the job done.

This project will also:

  • Involve students in hands-on service learning related to the projects CCM will be doing.
  • Train facility managers, teachers, and community members to help build knowledge and skills in managing the School Forest and maintaining the outdoor classroom through hands-on, site-specific training.

Project Selection Process

We will review and rank applications and select projects based on how well they meet the following criteria and CCM's ability to do the work.

Required Criteria:

  1. Your School Forest has a current stewardship/management plan.
  2. The project meets the goals or objectives outlined in the stewardship/management plan.
  3. The project meets one or more of the following criteria:
    1. A high skill-level is needed and otherwise unavailable
    2. The school has an economic need and cannot otherwise fund this work
    3. The project covers a large area of land
  4. The project will create one or more of the following:
    1. Safer outdoor environment
    2. More accessible outdoor classroom
    3. Healthier ecosystem
  5. A person associated with your School Forest, (e.g. the School Forest Coordinator, applicant, or their designee) will be named as the main contact and will assist with project planning. (If your project is selected, your main contact will work with Barb Spears and a representative from CCM who will help work through the project details).

Preferred Criteria:

  1. Students from the school will be able to participate in a service-learning project related to the project.
  2. School staff (teachers, administrators, facility managers, etc.), School Forest committee members, and community volunteers will be able to participate in a training on monitoring and continuing the project, or a training designed to build skills on managing School Forest land.

If you don't meet the required criteria, or are unsure, please contact Barb Spears to see what steps can be taken to meet them.

Project Considerations

There are many different types of projects CCM can do at your School Forest. They can be small (e.g. building a few benches) or large (e.g. buckthorn removal on multiple acres). Check out projects CCM can complete. You are not limited to ideas from this list. Each school should look at their School Forest stewardship/management plan and see what specific needs they have. Your DNR forester should be able to help. Discuss your ideas with them or have them recommend some top projects.

Note: Multiple small project ideas can be included in one application. For example, you could have CCM install a few benches plus remove a few dead branches and prune some hazard trees.

Depending on your project scope, CCM will schedule 1-4 days of work at your site. Scheduling may need to be adjusted for seasonal reasons (e.g. no pruning oak from April through July due to the potential for oak wilt) or weather and site conditions (e.g. early freeze, heavy rain, or soggy ground).

Application Information

To have your School Forest considered for this opportunity, you need to:

  1. Help plan the project and provide the materials, if needed.
  2. Complete a simple by downloading either fillable PDF or word doc with your project ideas.

We accept applications on a rolling deadline. If you'd like to target a specific season, consider these dates:

Application deadlines
April 2, 2018
April 15, 2018
May 1, 2018

Possible project dates
Spring 2018
Summer 2018
Fall 2018

Don't hesitate to apply as soon as you have a project in mind, even if you're unsure of the details or where to start. It takes time to create a project planning committee, plan a project, or to raise funds for materials. Applying early allows time for us to help you work through the details and to get the project scheduled with CCM.

This project ends on June 30, 2019. Be sure to take advantage of this opportunity while it's available!

How to Apply

Complete a simple by downloading either fillable PDF or word doc .

Submit to:
Barb Spears, School Forest Specialist
[email protected]
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155


Feel free to contact Barb Spears with any questions you have regarding potential projects or the application process. Our goal is help you create successful School Forest project!

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. DNR is an Equal Opportunity Employer.