Penninger Fire restoration educates Jackson County students

CENTRAL POINT, Ore.– For the second straight year, elementary school students received a unique experience to see the impact wildfires can have on the land. Local agencies led tours of the area where the Penninger Fire burned a year ago in Central Point.

The biggest takeaway for these students is the impact wildfires can have on the environment. But what’s also important is to see how life can bounce back even stronger after something considered so destructive.

Just a year ago, over 100 acres near the Jackson County Expo were engulfed in flames by 2018’s Penninger Fire. But this time, rather than blackened soil and burnt trees – there’s new life.

“This is a really great example about how wildfire can happen in an urban setting and a really good educational tool that’s very, very visible to all age groups,” said Ashley Blakely, personal services contractor for Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

Some 70 third graders from Sams Valley Elementary School were here eager to learn Tuesday. Along the Bear Creek Greenway, they gathered to see the dangers of wildfire but also how life can find a way.

“Two or three kids in each rotation this morning had been affected by the fire, either directly evacuated or knew someone that had,” said Karelia Vereecke, education outreach coordinator for Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District. “So they’re talking about something that’s scary but they’re also learning the natural processes of it.”

The program is developed by an assortment of organizations from RVCOG to Central Point Police and Oregon Department of Forestry. The goal – to help young minds learn the necessities of land maintenance and wildfire safety.

“We’re really capturing an audience right now that’s fun, eager to learn, is really a sponge to kind of suck up this information,” said Blakely. “Will hopefully be able to retain that and then bring it home as well.”

The plan is to bring more students here over the next couple of months. RVCOG says it plans to have more than 400 students take tours of the land through November and December. That way, this information can be passed on and shared with others.

“That to me is why I do this,” said Vereecke. “To give these kids an opportunity for the ownership of this knowledge so that they can look around them and see what’s happening and share it with their friends.”

If you would like to have your school take a tour of the land, you can call Jackson Soil and Water Conservation during business hours at 541-423-9159.

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