By VANESSA McCRAY
TRAVERSE CITY — A teacher and his biology students are stepping outside the classroom and into nature.
Traverse City West Senior High School science teacher Marek Ulicny and a group of current and graduated students want to create nature guides to local trails that point out and explain plants and habitats. The group picked a trail at the Grand Traverse Commons property to start with, and hopes to have its first pamphlet created this winter.
Earlier this month, a handful of students and Ulicny met at the Commons and struck out for a hike to figure out what to highlight in a guide. Ulicny described the gathering as a group of "like-minded individuals" who valued the outdoors and volunteered their time. The project is not a class requirement, though some of the students are enrolled in his AP Biology course.
"I'm a lifetime animal lover," said Mary Hoekje, a senior at Traverse City West. "I would rather be outside than inside in a classroom."
She credited her teacher for motivating the group to improve the trails and said the experience promises to be a "great learning opportunity." The group plans to start by creating a trail guide that lists the botanical features along the trail, helping hikers recognize what they are seeing. The effort could grow into a larger project that includes installing trail markers.
"We are going to make a brochure, and, ultimately, it would be cool if we had signs along the trail," Hoekje said.
On their first trail walk, the group spotted "massive rose bushes the size of small trees" and many different trees. Those features could be described in the trail guide, as well as the habitats and why the plants grow where they do, Hoekje said.
Fellow Traverse City West senior Natalie Wright said the group would like to create guides for many of the paths and trails around the Commons property. She said she would be among the users of such a guide.
"I find it interesting," Wright said.
Ulicny hopes the group's first guide shows the community what they are capable of, and that more work will continue. The group is figuring out how and where to distribute the guide, once finished, but would like it to be available at the trailhead site.