The Nature Trails
“Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander….” If there is anything at the Ray School that defines serene beauty, it is its nature trail. When one exits a back door of the school, all that can be seen is the world of nature. The school is located on over 20 acres of land which abuts the Storrs Pond Recreation Area. This incredible outdoor teaching station was recognized in the first days of the school. The first principal. Jerry Kaplan, created benches from logs and placed them in various locations and encouraged teachers to take children to the nature area. He would hold meetings in the Hemlock grove and the school held a ceremony in his honor when he left.
Having a nature trail in the backyard of the school is something the community was used to because when the elementary school was located on Lebanon Street, there was also a nature trail outside its door. In 1964, the Hanover Garden Club published a guide to the “Hanover School Nature Trail”. The introduction begins, “The children of Hanover have right in the backyard of their schools an outdoor museum unequaled by the vast majority of schools in this country….Becoming familiar with the local flora can be as rewarding as recognizing the faces around us.”
In a discussion of the origin of the valley near what is now Hanover High School, it is explained in the Garden Club’s guide, that a “…great ice sheet once covered all of New England….The glacial lake at Hanover was deep enough to have covered most of the tower at Baker Library.” This first guide was a wonderful telling of the area with its “…more than fifty species of wild flowers, thirty species of trees, and numerous shrubs, brambles, mosses, lichens and liverworts.” Because of all this, there are also many animals in the woods casual walkers will never see because besides subsisting on the plants, the animals use the greenery to hide in.
When the elementary school moved to its present location on Reservoir Road, it seemed natural to include the outdoor world in the curriculum. Once again, the school’s backyard was lush with the wonders of nature. When the school was first built the natural area behind it was mostly meadow with some forest and the hemlock grove. But without proper management, the forest soon began to overtake the meadow.
Help arrived in the fall of 1976, when a donation in memory of Judith Emory was given to the Ray School for the purpose of revitalizing the environmental program at the school.
In a dedication to Ms. Emory, it was said: “Judith Wallace Emory had her head down among ferns and boulders, on knees and elbows, holding a magnifying glass hoping not to miss anything. In the late 1960′s, in the happiest two years of her life, she helped teachers and children set up a program of nature studies at the Ray School. She died young, but her vitality and eagerness remain along the trails.” The project was masterminded by the Hanover Conservation Council and some Ray School teachers. This was the Ray School’s introduction to Allie Quinn, who maintained a longtime interest in the Nature Trail at the Ray School.
The first map “…to guide your steps….” included seven stops: the field, the white pine forest, the mixed forest, the brook, the edge, the hemlock forest and the pond.
In 1978, Carolyn Tenney and Jan Chapman along with a group of teachers under the leadership of Willy Black did some “…additional maintenance on the trail and produced a trial guide, the first of the teaching materials to be based on the natural area.”
The guide was dedicated to Judith Wallace Emory “…whose leadership, keen appreciation of the outdoor world, and love of children created the stimulus for our awareness of the need for this program.” This guide included lesson plans, suggested activities and available resources. The map of the trail included six areas: The hillside, the pine stand, the brook, the edge, the hemlock grove and the pond.