Art in nature: Community celebrates Dicken woods with annual winter walk
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
Hosted by the Friends of Dicken Woods, the event featured a 15-minute walk through wooded trails illuminated by more than 300 candlelit lanterns made by students.
"I think it helps them learn an appreciation for taking a walk outside," said Dave Queen, who attended the event with his wife, Kirstin, and their two children, Lainey and Ryan, both students at Dicken.
The Winter Walk was founded seven years ago when Stephanie Hunter, a member of FoDW and steward of the woods, approached Dicken art teacher Theresa Erickson with the idea. The walk has been drawing more people every year.
"It's just a fun evening to get the community out in the woods together," Hunter said.
The school's first through fifth grade students made the luminaries in art class under the guidance of Erickson, who encouraged them to use a theme or tell a story through their art.
Students covered their glass jars or vases with white tissue paper and drew on them with colored pens. Themes included flying pigs, fire breathing dragons, butterflies, families playing together, animals, seasonal scenes, sports and more.
As the candles flickered in the lanterns, they illuminated the pictures as well as the snow around them.
"It's great to see the way artworks can transform the woods," said Erickson.
Kirstin Queen had high praise for the work Erickson has done while working with the students to prepare for the evening.
"We're so fortunate to have such a creative art teacher who gets the kids involved in things like this," she said.
Evan Jakab, a fifth grader at Dicken, found his luminary on the trail and showed it proudly to his family, which included grandparents Clarence and Sylvia Veerasamny, who were visiting from Toronto. On the tissue-papered glass vase, Jakab had designed a scene with waves to remind him of Florida. He and his family moved to Ann Arbor from Florida in December.
The Veerasamnys, both in their 80's, navigated the illuminated trails with the help of their daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and a wooden walking stick.
"There's just so much beautiful stuff happening around here," Sylvia Veerasamny said.
As families finished the walk, they were treated to hot chocolate and cookies while a slideshow of the luminaries played on a large screen.
The school's principal, Michael Madison, addressed the crowd and thanked the Friends of Dicken Woods for their involvement and for seeing what Dicken Woods could be, instead of what it was when the group formed seven years ago.
FoDW is a community-based organization that works to preserve, protect and improve the woods. The FoDW was founded in response to a proposal for a townhouse development on the land. Members of the community raised $50,000 to help the city purchase the property.
Since then the FoDW has been working to clear trails, plant trees and wildflowers, remove invasive species, and maintain a butterfly garden. Last year members of the FoDW invested more than 500 hours of work in the woods, according to Hunter.
In addition to the work in the woods, the FoDW has a secondary goal of integrating the use of the woods into the curriculum of the school. FoDW member Leigh Ann Boyd said they aim to teach students an appreciation for nature as well as how to use the woods in respectful ways that promote the area's natural beauty.
To that end, the group has established a $1,500 grant that is given to the school every year to help bring natural science programs to the students, according to Boyd.
To ensure the evening's success, 20 volunteers from the FoDW helped set up the luminaries, light the candles, serve as guides on the trails, and serve refreshments in the school.
The fact that none of the volunteers have students at the school speaks to the commitment the FoDW has to being part of the community, Hunter said.
"We just really enjoy getting out here and seeing all the kids and families enjoying the woods," Hunter said.
Andrew Turner is an intern for the Community Team at AnnArbor.com. Have a neighborhood news tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.