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NAWLA: Forest Forever Exhibit Engages New Generation 

Traveling children's museum allows kids to interact with the lumber and construction industry.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you have a good understanding of the forest products industry—our history, our processes, the practical use of wood products, sustainability, and the like. You know what responsible forest practices are, and you know the work we do to maintain healthy, robust products for generations to come. You know that our products are incorporated across nearly every corner of homes and businesses from coast to coast.

You may also be acutely aware of misconceptions that exist in the public around forest product production and the impacts we have across our industry, our country, and the world. How many of us find ourselves regularly fighting an uphill battle to educate people about the benefits of responsible wood product manufacturing, and the positive impacts forest products have in everyday lives? We’re often left defending the very products that people use daily. We are constantly setting the record straight about how we harvest and reforest our products.

The forest products industry has a longstanding, albeit inaccurate, reputation of clear-cutting, and many kids today are taught early on that cutting down trees is always, ALWAYS a bad idea. Why is it fine to harvest corn every season, but trees are somehow different? It’s not common knowledge that the forest products industry is, in fact, the biggest champion of sustainable forestry, period.

Part of maintaining healthy forests includes acknowledging that managing the volume of trees in a region is paramount. Unfortunately, wildfires have become all too common in North America, yet there is no universal understanding of the need for this proactive forest management. It is our responsibility to educate people about all of these aspects of what we do, and why we do it.How better to address these concerns, than by educating the youngest generation?

This year, NAWLA signed on as a 10-year supporting sponsor of a traveling children’s museum exhibit entitled “Forever Forest.” Open now through April 2018 at the Omaha Children’s Museum and then weaving its way to museums across the U.S. and Canada, this experience is intended to help families learn about the forest products lifecycle in a fun and interactive manner. Exploring the realities of forests through play, families learn about sustainability, selective harvesting, transportation needs, and the everyday products that come from forest product resources.

The exhibit includes:

• “Tree Top Climber,” a climbing structure and slide;
• “Harvest Time,” which includes a kid-friendly grapple skidder and faux logs;
• “Train Challenge,” a train modeled after a Union Pacific (the presenting sponsor of the exhibit) transport engine on which kids practice loading and unloading a train full of lumber and surprising tree products like chocolate, gum, and ping-pong balls;
• “Train Transport,” a tabletop interactive display of the steps of forest product transportation from forest to sawmill to distribution yard to lumber store to factories;
• “Sawmill Science,” educating children about how byproducts create energy to run sawmills;

• “Wood Works,” a play home in which kids can select their preferred wood products to finish siding, moulding, and more.

In addition to telling our story through interactive exhibit pieces, the exhibit travels with signage that provides additional avenues to explain our mission. Some signs explain careers in forestry, while others highlight the importance of forest management and reasons behind selective harvesting, and offer trivia such as the number of trees planted in the U.S. for every tree harvested.

The content of this exhibit was inspired by an educational outreach program developed by the Hardwood Forest Foundation (HFF) called Truth About Trees. Truth About Trees teaches children all about sustainable forestry and the everyday products that come from trees. It provides elementary school teachers with tiered lesson plans, a storybook, a DVD, a wood product school supply scavenger hunt, wooden pencils, stickers and flashcards featuring several everyday items made from trees. Teachers will have the option to replenish their kit year after year via hardwoodforest.org.

Industry advocates can also sponsor teachers on the wish list via the HFF website. Mary Gronewold, a teacher who represents Truth About Trees, said, “This program is unique. Up until now, elementary school teachers have not had access to interactive curriculum that teaches not only what sustainable forestry is but also how it benefits our everyday lives.”

When I asked NAWLA chairman Jim McGinnis about his thoughts regarding this investment, he said, “The mission of Forever Forest aligns directly with NAWLA’s goal of expanding the reach of the industry and providing a path for younger generations to experience the many benefits of what this industry has to offer. We couldn’t have found a more deserving project of our investment.”

As Forever Forest moves to Missouri, Arkansas, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and beyond for its 30-city tour, each museum will put its local spin on the display—highlighting hardwoods or softwoods as relevant, or incorporating local industry into the experience. As was the case in Omaha, community members within the industry can play a vital role in creating a unique and localized experience for visitors.

Omaha Children’s Museum executive director Lindy Hoyer said, “The Forever Forest exhibit develops fine and gross motor skills, encourages critical thinking, provides creative role-playing opportunities and fosters tactile enrichment, all while exposing kids to responsible forestry practices. We are proud to be part of the development of Forever Forest, and look forward to seeing its success across the country over the next decade.”

Sponsors of Forever Forest include: presenting sponsor Union Pacific, supporting sponsor NAWLA, DMSI, Douglas County Nebraska, PLM, Boise Cascade Corp., Cascade Hardwood Group, Cole Hardwood Inc., Wood-Mizer, Purdue University, Koetter Woodworking Inc., National Hardwood Lumber Association, Hardwood Forest Foundation, Batey Ltd., and WMC.

Forever Forest will be a road trip with tremendous impact. It is estimated that Forever Forest could reach as many as five million children over the course of its 10-year tour. NAWLA is thrilled at the prospect of engaging a new generation in the forest products industry, and we look forward to sharing the stories with you.

Marc Saracco

Marc Saracco is Executive Director of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association as well as Executive Director at SmithBucklin's Business + Trade Industry Practice.

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