History of the Emery Babcock Outdoor Classroom

  • The idea for a new teaching space came about during covid. We ran 95% of all our field trips outside which is really why people come to BSF. We realized that a covered area would be really great and that kids could still be outside, spaced out, surrounded by nature, and yet out of direct sun or rain. We also get phone calls from surrounding schools asking to bring their students to BSF. It’s not that we’re being exclusive, but just counting Stevens Point School District classes, we hosted 277 field trips in a 180-day school year. That’s nearly 6,000 students in grades 4K-10. A new teaching space could serve as classroom for other youth groups, organizations and surrounding schools. But where to put it?

    Mother Nature helped us with that one. The school forest changed a lot on July 20, 2019 when the derecho wind storm came through. We lost 1500 trees in about 30 minutes. Thankfully Eagle Tree Care, Weekly Timber, and our own district grounds crew were able to come out and salvage the trees for pulp and bolts. This specific spot had every tree knocked over. Instead of sending these trees away, they were cut into saw logs and stacked right over there. This was the perfect place for a new teaching space. Open but still cozy, not far from the road but just far enough off the road, and surrounded by nature. The land was cleared and leveled, and the concrete was poured by Sobczak Concrete Masonry.

    Tomorrow River Portable Sawmill came and worked with Wisconsin River Academy students from SPASH for nearly a whole day to mill the trees right here on site. My neighbor Steve Lybeck taught the WRA students how to sticker the boards so that they would dry straight and true. When you look at the structure above you, all the purlins and support boards are all from trees that stood and grew here for probably 80 years. I think that is pretty special.

    Michael Rutta and Steve Lybeck put together plans but we needed a building crew.  Woodlands Church has this thing each May called Spring Into Action. Jacob Kazda, Pastor Doug, Ziggy and a whole bunch of other very skilled, very professional folks with tools and a generator came for two full weekends that summer and built this amazing place. It was hot work but everyone involved had a great attitude and labored until the work was done. Jacob, Steve, and Alex Brzezinski did the finishing work around the shelter including the gables. Finally, Fahrners excavating came in and put in a driveway and river rock to shed the water. I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Worzella & Sons Potatoes for allowing us the use of the corner of their farm field throughout this project.

    Trees and shrubs were donated by the Rotary Club of Stevens Point, Rotary Club of Portage County, and the Green Team at Frame Presbyterian. Girl scouts also helped to plant dog wood and ninebark in this area. Other donations came from Jason and Leigh Kraemer, Stud Brother’s construction, Phillip and Barb Hall, Cherie and Carey Cisewski, Eloise Hall, Janet Langton, Sally Ellingboe, and Autumn Babcock.

    The big tables in the back were rehomed from Plover-Whiting elementary art room during their renovations. And the amazing benches you are sitting on? Steve Lybeck is an RSVP volunteer not only at BSF but also at the Charles Fernandez Center where he and other mentors share their time and woodworking skills and their life philosophies with students at CFC. Steve used the Leopold bench model and modified it to be these comfortable benches you see here. Students at CFC worked to build these 12 benches, sand them, stain them, and even add an artistic touch with wood burning the different trees and names on the boards. Their work even made the news! 

    Cellcom awarded us a Green Gift Grant so that we could purchase that patio box, binoculars, bug boxes, compasses, field guides, hand lenses, a first aid pack, and more! Thank you Cellcom.

    Next, we started fundraising for an outhouse. We wanted it to be something nice (not a scary outhouse), safe, maintenance free, and something the forest critters couldn’t take over.So we reached out to The Town of Plover Tourism Commission who sponsors the Forest Family Fun Run event in August and Chris Brooks, Mike Lubinski, and Jim Garbe were so kind and made a large donation towards the outhouse. Thank you. We also applied for a Community grant through the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin and were fortunate to receive partial funding from that grant as well. Thank you to Jenny Riggenbach and the amazing team at Community Foundation. You help organizations like BSF achieve our goals. 

    Even after these donations, we were still a bit short. Each December we have one fundraising event called the Polar Pond Plunge. This year we had more pond plungers than ever. It seems that everyone wanted to help fund an outhouse! Thank you!

    Woodlands Spring Into Action was in full force this spring as they brought back nearly 70 volunteers. With their help, we established a north-south trail, stained the posts, built a pollinator garden and made this new outdoor classroom ready to go.

    Why Emery Babcock Outdoor Classroom? About 2 years ago when plans were coming together for this place, Sally Ellingboe suggested Emery as the name sake. It didn’t take long to understand how important Emery was to the Stevens Point School District. He was a principal at Jackson Elementary, Assistant Superintendent, and Superintendent of Schools until his retirement in 2002. Emery was an outdoorsman and developed the Tiger Cubs program for the Stevens Point Boy Scouts. Emery understood the value of sharing nature with children and giving them a chance to try an outdoor skill. So it wasn’t a surprise that he was determined that every elementary student in the school district should have the opportunity to visit BSF each year and learn and grow from this amazing place. Emery made the decision, He made the position, and he made the budget to hire a full-time environmental education coordinator to lead programs at BSF. That was a defining moment because it gave BSF the time, manpower, enthusiasm, and support it needed to become the program that it is today. I’m so glad that Emery chose Sally to be the first coordinator and together they built an amazing place for students to learn and experience the great outdoors. Emery’s love for the Boy Scouts carries through today as well. BSF is still offered for use through reservations to all scout and other non-profit youth groups at absolutely no cost. In return, nearly 60 Eagle Scouts have completed their capstone projects at BSF making us the beneficiary of things like bird feeder stations, trail signs, nature playground structures, new trails, and so much more. On behalf of everyone who works or has worked at BSF in the past, we are proud to be part of this amazing place and to continue Emery Babcock’s vision for outdoor environmental education in the Stevens Point Public School District.

    Although Emery passed away in January 2021, many of his family members attended the dedication event including Don Babcock and his daughter Lily,  Cherie and Carey Cisewski and their daughters Maddie and Cora and Michael Babcock and his daughter Autumn. I’d like to especially thank Autumn for being part of this project by inspiring the artwork on the sign. She volunteers for all of our special events and has taken a special interest in the outdoor classroom named for her Grandfather. 

    DEDICATION:

    On this day, June 7th, 2024 we dedicate the Emery Babcock Outdoor Classroom area at Boston School Forest to the memory of Emery Babcock in recognition of his important contributions to the people and programs at Boston School Forest and the Stevens Point Area Public School District.

  • Submitted by Autumn Babcock, Emery's Granddaughter

    Emery was born on December 4, 1939, in Dousman, WI to the late James and Leona (Hall) Babcock. He grew up in the area and attended the local public schools, including Palestine School, one of the last one-room schoolhouses in Wisconsin, and graduated from Mukwonago High School in 1957. Emery received his Bachelor of Arts in Education degree at UW-Whitewater in 1962. He went on to attend Northern Illinois University where he received his Master of Arts in School Administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago.

    Following his education, Emery taught public school in Harvard, IL until 1972. He was part of the committee that designed the curriculum for the Butterfield School in Libertyville, IL. While living in Illinois, Emery met Lois Grubner and they were married on June 12, 1965, in Saint Charles.

    In 1972, Emery and Lois moved to the Stevens Point area. A career educator, Emery first served as principal of Jackson Elementary School from 1972-1974. He then served the Stevens Point Area School District as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction from 1974 to 1996, and as Superintendent of Schools from 1996 until his retirement in 2002.

    Emery was an avid supporter of area youth. He advocated for the establishment of the Boston School Forest, an outdoor educational facility in Stevens Point. Emery was also involved with the Boy Scouts of America for 42 years where he was integral in developing the Tiger Cubs program for the Stevens Point area troops. He received the Silver Beaver Award for his service to the Boy Scouts.

    Emery enjoyed camping and traveling all over the country with his family. He also loved gardening, especially with his late friend LeRoy Heiser.