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Unveiling the Timber Ridge Nature Trail

Celebrating the completion of a multi-year STEM project
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds walks the Timber Ridge Nature Trail with Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner and members of CCA Middle School Nature Trail Crew on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 12, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Students of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) class contributed to the development of the new trail over the course of a few years. (photo by Cale Stelken)

TIFFIN– Several years of hard work and a powerful learning experience manifested on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 12, as the City of Tiffin and members of the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School District unveiled the new Timber Ridge Nature Trail with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour.
The trail was a unique product of CCA Middle School’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) class. The original group of eighth-graders were led by 2016 STEM Teacher of the Year Reagan Boeset and provided the opportunity to work with experts in engineering, conservation, landscaping and zoning in an effort to reinforce work-based learning. In total, 46 students took part in the CCA Middle School Nature Trail Crew, with guidance from University of Iowa engineering students and the support of 12 sponsors.
One of four designs proposed, the trail is made of approximately 1,000 feet of concrete on an elevated bank with wooden benches constructed by STEM students looking over the surrounding timber. The trail connects to the western Roberts Ferry Road sidewalk. According to City Administrator Doug Boldt, while early plans were to have it link to other trails in the city, connectivity to the west was eliminated due to Americans with Disabilities (ADA) compliance issues.
One playscape design was chosen out of 10 proposed. It features various tree stumps and logs as well as an in-development moss play pit for small children. Seven educational pedestals can be found on the trail, describing local wildlife and plants.
Those who participated in its development took time to rejoice in their civic accomplishment, describing the fulfilling and educational process, and crediting those who supported the project.
Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner explained how the gears began turning 15 years ago when the city’s planning and zoning commission, of which Berner was a member, was interested in developing a nature trail in the Timber Ridge development. About a decade later, the Tiffin City Council made a priority of improving public parks, and Mayor Berner contacted STEM Instructor Reagan Boeset with the mindset of saving taxpayers money through having students help engineer and build it while also providing them an excellent learning opportunity. Such opportunities included having the STEM group fill out an application for the Iowa REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) grant, leading the middle school students on a trip to Des Moines with the accompaniment of Berner and Boldt to receive the $75,000 grant. The city also used a GO bond of about $25,000 to finish the project for a total cost of approximately $100,000.
Rob Decker of HBK Engineering assisted in the early conceptualization stages and Nick Ford, East Region President of Woodruff Construction, general contractor for the city’s parks, eagerly joined the effort. 
“It was a natural progression,” Berner said.
Three Tiffin City Council meetings and one Good Neighbor Meeting kept the project moving to its completion.
The ceremony was also attended by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who cited the new trail as a great example of the power of STEM. “Not only are we driving STEM momentum through the high-quality scale of programs, it’s also happening with grassroots efforts like this Timber Ridge Trail, and that’s how we’re really seeing the momentum and the scale that we’re seeing happening across school districts all across the state,” she said, commending Boeset for shepherding the students.
“I think what’s cool is it represents not just a one-time thing for CCA, but kind of a history of really working to give students opportunities,” remarked CCA Superintendant Tim Kruehl. He went on to cite the recently developed agriculture program which will be STEM-based with a CASE (Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education) curriculum.
“We’ve learned how to become leaders and decision makers in our communities; we have grown our confidence, our drive, our motivation and ambition,” cited Ellie Hagen, a freshman at Clear Creek Amana. “We also learned how much more STEM is than just science, technology, engineering and math. It’s about problem solving and innovation and brainstorming and new ideas, and really it’s about the future of our world.”
The STEM instructor offered heartfelt comments, thanking Berner, Boldt and the City of Tiffin for their efforts.“You are so brave,” Boeset commended. “You welcomed a group of middle schoolers into the world of city government and opened their eyes to processes oftentimes unseen, uncared about or forgotten about. You trusted in a middle school teacher to pitch to the DNR and stand in defense of a nature trail designed and built by middle school students, and you patiently supported our crew for nearly four years to bring that vision to fruition.”
Boeset emphasized her students, “realize that your hand reaches farther than the classroom,” and commended their civic involvement and awareness.
As for the future of CCA’s STEM class and its part in the community, Boeset has more than a few aspirations.
“Environmentally, I would love to have students work on rainscaping water detention areas around the community, creating bioswales for storm water management or phytoremediation islands in area ponds,” she said. “A construction-based project that I have been thinking about is having students build little free libraries and little free pantries throughout the district.”
Boeset also dreams of acquiring grant money to facilitate an “Elementary Engineering Night,” where her students would work with elementary students and in-field experts to build small projects they would get to take home, offering the opportunity to read a blueprint and use basic tools.
“When we are gifted with a chance to allow our children and students to blow us away, don’t ever let that opportunity pass,” she insisted. “When we relinquish a little bit of control, we become privy to their true potential, and that’s what I get to do everyday.”