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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Environmental Education Nature Trail

The Little Nature Trail that Keeps on Giving
Putnam Middle School

By Claire Datnow

On this chilly winter morning I get the odd sensation that I’ve entered a time warp. No, I am not in
The Rocky Horror Show. I’m on the grounds of W. E. Putnam Middle School with a trash bag and clippers in hand. You see, way back in the 1990s my dedicated middle school students and I began building a nature trail and outdoor classroom. We never imagined that two decades later it would be blossoming anew.

Nature trail Environmental Education Audubon
Claire Datnow with Teachers and Students Looking at a Scrap Book About the Nature Trail

Under the auspices Principal Terrell Brown, Ansel Payne, executive director of the Birmingham Audubon Society, and the Jones Valley Teaching Farm the trail is being cleared of invasive Chinese privet to create a nature sanctuary for Brown nut hatches, and a place for teachers to integrate nature into the curriculum for all students.

Janina Metro, my student in the Gifted and Talented program at Putnam between 1998-2000, penned this letter to me:

I remember when we started working on the Panther Paw Nature Trail. At first, I was excited to get out of the school building for any reason, but soon fell in love with being in the woods and learning about the plants and animals that we saw. I remember the invasive species Mrs. Datnow pointed out . . .. This was my first introduction to the importance of native plant species on the continuing existence of native wildlife …Even now, as I hike and backpack with my own four children, I think fondly of the time as I point out the mayapple, trillium, the liverwort, and other plants . . . I often walked over to the trail with my best friend, who was part of the project, after school and on weekends . . . It was a wonderful place . . . to be free of our troubles and worries. The peace we found there has inspired me to teach my children about our world and how to preserve what we have been given, and to become wise stewards of nature.

Audubon Environmental Education Datnow
Claire Datnow with Gayle Flowers (retired teacher) and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin

The restoration project, slated to continue next fall, comes at a time when Birmingham activists are spearheading a new era of environmental justice to address decades of racial disparities and offer a better vision for the city’s youth.

I am thrilled to see this trail and the school grounds taking shape, and to be a small part of this exciting outreach.

For more information and a cool video visit:
https://www.audubon.org/news/at-alabama-middle-school-birds-belong-everyone

Claire Datnow is the author of a series of Eco mysteries for 4-8 graders,The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, which reflects her passion and awe for the natural world. Alina Stefanescu says, “Claire’s Eco fiction provides a counter-narrative in which girl heroines are driven by eco-fascination and the desire to preserve something they love” Visit: https://alina_stefanescu.typepad.com/_patrick_and_alina_weddin/2016/08/claire-datnows-wonderful-alabama-based-eco-mysteries-for-middle-schoolers.html.