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Posted on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 9 a.m.

Art in nature: Community celebrates Dicken woods with annual winter walk

By Andrew Turner


One of more than 300 luminaries created by Dicken Elementary School students that lined the paths in Dicken Woods Tuesday.

Lon Horwedel |

Hundreds of students, parents and neighbors of Dicken Elementary School gathered Tuesday night to appreciate art and nature for the annual Dicken Woods Winter Walk.

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 Have a neighborhood news tip? Email


Madman Is Back

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 12:54 a.m.

What a great event headed by a great man, the principal of the school, who spends countless hours in these woods making it such a great place for our children. Where would DW be without his effort? What a great space has been created. The principal should pat himself on the back for responding in such a fashion to say such a few words that mean so much, much more.


Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 3:45 a.m.

how wonderful to hear that the principal works so closely with the Friends of Dicken Woods!


Thu, Feb 17, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

What a great event! I was there and thoroughly enjoyed how it brought together families and community members. As we made out way out to the woods I heard one very excited student say "I can't wait to see my luminary!" Kudos to Ms. Erickson, Dicken, and The Friends of Dicken Woods for hosting such a worthwhile event.