By Meg Peters
Naturalist Jamie Huhta shared the dirt path with wood frogs and trilliums winding back behind Moose Tree Nature Preserve on her daily walk to check the trails.
She stopped when she came to the tree that inspired Moose Tree’s name, a huge White Oak tree with a very moose-like growth, or ganon, protruding out its side.
Boy scouts built the wooden walkway around the tree to help protect it, and give people an area to stand as part of their badge earning process, Huhta said.
Huhta, who was born and raised in Lake Orion, has developed Moose Tree’s educational programming, which includes the nature hikes, since 2008 for Lake Orion Schools.
She will say goodbye to the three trails, all of Moose Tree’s programming, activities and summer camps June 30 when the district’s nature preserve officially closes.
Talks of eliminating some or all of the programming started a while ago, as early as 2006, and were finalized in February when administration cut her position.
“It’s a really nice add-on program for our kids but unfortunately we have to prioritize our spending,” Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance John Fitzgerald said.
Also cut were the director of transportation, supervisors of special education, operations and English as a Second Language, and the director of technology to name a few.
While Huhta has enjoyed her last eight years working as the district’s naturalist, she is devastated to see the programming go.
Cutting the naturalist position and all programming at Moose Tree will save the district approximately $80,000.
“It’s just a huge loss for the students of Lake Orion schools. This was something that almost no other district had,” Huhta said.
Throughout the year, every elementary class from kindergarten through fourth grade took a field trip to Moose Tree for various science labs, experiments and nature hikes. Recently, another 150 middle school students from Walden scoured the grounds to build their own shelters for a project.
Moose Tree also established a partnership with Oakland University where students studying early education could come to Moose Tree and volunteer as a means to acquire teaching hours.
The last programs that will run are ‘Let’s Be Candy Scientists’ on Saturday, May 21, where kindergarten through fifth grade students will do science experiments with all sorts of candy and food.
Movie at the Moose will be featured on June 3. Kids will watch The Good Dinosaur for the last movie night starting at 6 p.m., ending at 9 p.m., and make a craft for $10.
Moose Tree Nature Preserve will be closed to the public from July 1 on until the district decides what to do with the building.
“We don’t know yet, we are working on it. We’re trying to see if we can run some other programming out of it, and also trying to determine if it’s going to be open for teachers to take their kids for a lab-like setting,” Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Curriculum Heidi Mercer said.
The district is also working with Orion Township and Oakland County to see if either is interested in doing any programming at Moose Tree.
“We’ve struggled with this for years,” Mercer said. “It’s just we’re not making enough to pay for the building’s funding. It’s very difficult to get to where we are at least breaking even.”
The cuts were made as part of the district
By Meg Peters