At the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, experiential learning is the foundation for training UGA students to become professional foresters, certified wildlife and fish biologists, and expert natural resource managers. However, the faculty and administration of the school believe Georgia's primary and secondary school students should receive a basic foundation of understanding about the state's forests and natural resources even before they reach college.
For this reason, the Warnell School constructed the Mary Kahrs Warnell Forest Education Center in 2001, located within the 3,300-acre Dorothy Warnell Research, Education and Demonstration Forest. Located in Effingham County (outside Savannah), the center provides school-aged students and teachers with educational programs about sustainable forest management practices and forest ecosystems.
The facility has a 50-seat classroom with state-of-the-art visual and audio equipment, a large outdoor deck with semi-circular bench seating and fireplace, an exhibit area with interactive displays, and several miles of groomed, interpretive hiking trails surrounding the education center.
The wide variety of educational programs provided at the center incorporate activities from nationally acclaimed outdoor education programs such as Project Learning Tree, Project Wet and Project WILD. Students as young as kindergarten can learn about how soil is created from rocks and how to identify different trees. Beginning at the fourth-grade level, student are introduced to the variety of wildlife native to the area, taught about the significance of Georgia's water resources and introduced to ecological concepts such as renewable resources and sustainability. By high school, education topics advance into the history of Georgia's forests and the role they have played in the growth and development of the state, and the science supporting forest land management from an ecological point-of view. This entails consideration for all aspects of forest land from wetlands conservation to timber growth management to appropriate wildlife habitat management.
In addition, the Center hosts the Savannah Chapter of the Society of American Foresters Annual Walk in the Warnell Forest where natural resource professionals come together to educate area 4th grade students, teachers and parents about a wide variety of natural resources topics. The Center also provides Boy Scout Merit Badge programs and has created a local Girls in Science group which exposes 5th to 12th grade girls to professional women scientists and the wide variety of careers in science and technology.
Over the past five years the center has also developed into a small-scale forest history museum with presentations and displays on ancient wood native to the region, forest products manufactured and sold over time, and naval stores artifacts telling the story of how Georgia's coastal plain forests financially supported the poor, rural population of the region during the first half of the twentieth century. A Forest History Interpretive Trail showcasing a variety of notable historical aspects of the property is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The Center is named in honor of Mary Kahrs Warnell, wife of Daniel B. Warnell and mother of five children, including sisters Dorothy Warnell, who died in 1996, and Carolyn Warnell Bryan, who deeded the land for both the Forest and the Center.
The Mary Kahrs Warnell Forest Education Center is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, reservations are required for any facilitator-lead educational programs. All educational programs are provided for free.