Junior Arborist Camp: Reaching Out to the Future

John Ball, BCMA

Professor of Forestry, Extension Forestry Specialist

Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science Department, South Dakota State University

Christina Lind-Thielke

Assistant Gardener/Education Coordinator

McCrory Gardens, South Dakota State University

When did you decide to become an arborist?  We’ll guess it wasn’t in elementary or secondary school.  At that time career plans are focused on becoming an astronaut, entertainer or even President.  Unfortunately, even as you become older and developed more realistic career plans, probably no one talked with you about arboriculture.

Arboriculture, as with all many other occupations, is facing a demographic challenge.  As the number of individuals in their formative years of exploring career options declines, there becomes increased competition to attract these potential workers.  Fields such as arboriculture that involve physical activities will be particularly impacted as their aging worker population may not be able to perform physically demanding tasks.  The question becomes how to recruit the new work force.

Arboriculture, despite the high visibility of some its work such as tree pruning and removals, is not a well-known career option.  There are few secondary school programs or courses and most guidance counselors are unaware of the field’s potential.  Many young people only become acquainted with the field after high school while attending a post-secondary school for another occupation or working in an allied trade such as landscaping. The time to begin creating the awareness and interest in an arboriculture career is as early as possible in the school system, when the students are beginning to explore their career choices. 

Hence the development of the Junior Arborist Program through McCrory Gardens, a part of South Dakota State University.  This objective of this program, funded through support from the TREE Fund, is to create and deliver arboriculture summer programs focused not only on secondary school student, the high school student, but middle school and elementary. 

The program delivered this past summer was developed around eight modules of arboricultural instruction.  The modules were designed to be completed within a one to three hour time period and involve indoor and outdoor activities.   Each module consisted of a list of desired outcomes, a lesson plan, equipment and supplies, including specific PPE, needed to complete activities within the module, and the skill and knowledge requirements of instructors.  The eight modules were:

1)    How trees grow and survive

2)    The root of the matter: the importance of soil

3)    How to identify tree species

4)    Tree pruning

5)    Tree care operations

6)    Tree felling

7)    Tree inventories

8)    Tree climbing

The summer camp consisted of four mornings of field and classroom activities and was held in mid-August 2016.  The students, across a wide range of ages, enjoyed the opportunity to learn about how trees grow and develop identification skills, but the highlight was, of course, climbing and observing arboricultural operations such as felling and chain saw use.  The program sparked interest in arboriculture as well as awareness that this is a career path.  We hope that the spark ignites in some of the students and they eventually pursue a career in arboriculture or urban forestry 

This is just the beginning of a long-term effort to expose children to the many opportunities in our field and we plan to continue the program with other camps and weekend opportunities next summer.