and visited the replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond as a
student. “Seeing it first-hand really made me appreciate the
simple life Thoreau lived for two years there. I wanted to bring
that to my students, since I couldn’t bring the kids to Walden.”
Anderson contacted building trades teacher Tom Rooney,
who was immediately onboard with the concept of replicating
Thoreau’s cabin in Newport. Rooney secured school funding to
enlist Maher, who owns Green Timber Works in nearby Glover,
to work with his students. Natural resources instructor Sam
Nijensohn set about repairing the old sawmill at the Career
Center’s Harold J. Haynes Memorial Land Lab, a 60-acre working
forest a few miles off campus.
“My class started from the tree, determining which trees to
cut and why,” said Nijensohn.
After completing the Game of Logging chainsaw safety
training, natural resources students took to the woods at the
Land Lab, a lumber list in hand. They looked for trees showing
signs of decline, as well as trees that needed to be thinned. The
harvest included rot-resistant tamarack for use close to the
ground, balsam fir, and a bit of poplar.
Each student in Nijensohn’s two classes – 18 altogether
– selected and cut a tree for the project to come up with 1,000
board feet for the timber frame skeleton and another 1,000
board feet for the floor and sheathing. They worked together to
get the trees out of the woods and organize the landing so they
could safely and efficiently buck the logs into the appropriate
lengths and mill the timber.
While Nijensohn’s students are all comfortable around a
chainsaw and working outside – many of them sugar in the
spring, hunt in the fall, and have put in countless hours cutting
and splitting firewood at home – the Thoreau project allowed
a chance for a practical experience in a working forest and the
related planning that goes with that work.
“We definitely had to think ahead and know the next
steps before we started,” said Isaiah Carbonneau, a junior in
Nijensohn’s class last year, who is considering pursuing a career
as a consulting forester after high school.
Throughout the process, students were able to choose
aspects of the logging and milling work that most interested
them, whether skidding logs to the landing, bucking them to
length, or running the sawmill. And they had to work as a team
in each step of the process.
“It’s pretty cool to know that we made every part of the
cabin,” said Henry Delabruere, a junior last year, as he worked
alongside other students to erect the cabin frame. “I feel like I
learned a lot more doing this than in my other classes, being out
in the woods and cutting the trees, skidding them out, making
the measurements. It was really fun and hands-on – being able
to run the equipment and work as a team.”
Framing and Fundraising
The Thoreau cabin project provided students a chance to
develop a combination of skills. Nijensohn’s students learned
to winch logs out of the woods properly, how to mill the wood
to different sized cants, how to stack and sticker boards, and
how to calculate board footage in tree form, log form, and
board form. He pointed out that students also gained “basic
employability” skills, such as learning to think ahead and to
work as part of a team.
Every step along the way was a learning opportunity, from harvesting and skidding out logs…to building the timber frame in a shop…to assembling the frame on site.