FAIRBANKS— Effie Kokrine Charter School and the National Park Service building share a common border. The Effie Kokrine students and the park service staff also have something in common: a deep love of the natural environment.
It’s fitting then, that the property that rests between the two buildings is Peirce Park, a small wooded public land trust donated to the borough by Walter Peirce. The park has several established trails that wind through the trees, and residents often can be seen walking their dogs through the area.
The park occupies a small parcel of land just west of Fairbanks Street and south of Geist Road.
Effie Kokrine students, park service personnel and a number of other groups hope to make the park even more accessible to the public and useful to those that visit. They’ve already begun a number of activities aimed at improving the site.
Over the last year, students have been taking time to clean up trash from the park and from the adjacent Deadman Slough, which runs through the park’s northern edge and along behind the school building.
Students routinely foray into the park to study the plants and animals that live within its boundaries. This summer, the school will operate an ethno-biology class taught by an Alaska Native elder.
Melanie Flamme, a wildlife biologist at the park service, said the allied groups hope to take the park and add in a number of new features. Those features could include kiosks marking different vegetation along the trails and identifying them with their scientific, Native and common names; building an entrance kiosk to the park for visitors; expanding the trails; and possibly even building a bridge across the slough to allow better access to visitors walking down from Geist Road.
The improvement is still in its preliminary phases, but its eventual goal is to furnish a minimally developed park that can be used both by members of the public for recreation and by students at Effie Kokrine, University Park Elementary, West Valley High and Hutchison High schools as a living learning lab.
For the last year, Effie Kokrine students have been working with local sculptor Craig Cheledinas to take trash and turn it into a work of art. The idea came from Patrick Chandler and naturalist Loretta Brown, who works with the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies in Homer.
Eight months after the students started work to create a life-size black bear sculpture, they are nearly finished. The bear, crafted entirely out of recycled parts except for its metal frame, was created in afternoon sessions over the course of the 2013-14 school year.
Several students said they have been saddened by the amount of garbage they find in nature now. Chyann Henry, Madison Kreider, Kaytlynn Delgado, Janet Pulido and Destiny Mitchell said they’ve learned through their work with the bear and with the park that many people don’t seem to care how they dispose of their trash.
But they said they have hope for the future. They’ve each begun making small changes in their own environments to reduce their impact on the earth.
For its part, the bear will travel around Fairbanks North Star Borough to different schools and events, accompanied by people who hope to teach kids and adults alike the importance of a clean environment.
Eventually, the bear will take its permanent place in Peirce Park, where Flamme, Cheledinas and others hope it will be accompanied by several other improvements.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.