The Rahr Memorial School Forest is located north of the Point Beach State Forest on the shore of Lake Michigan. The School Forest contains a total of 293.31 acres located in the townships of Two Rivers and Two Creeks in Manitowoc County.
There have been several changes in landforms over time due to glaciations, fluctuations in Lake Michigan’s water levels, and the effects caused by wind blown sand. Glacial Lake Nippissing covered the area 4,000 years ago. The present Lake Michigan levels existed about 2,000 years ago. The three soil types, as reported by the Soil Survey of Manitowoc County, include Bridgeman fine sand, dune sand, and peat.
Many species of trees exist within the School Forest including oak, aspen, maple, white pine, red pine, hemlock, paper birch, yellow birch, jack pine, Norway spruce, white cedar, and green ash. There is also a variety of herbaceous plants including grasses, sedges, wildflowers, shrubs, invasive plants, and rare specimens.
Wildlife that can be found at the School Forest includes grey fox, red fox, white-tail deer, wild turkey, raccoon, turtle, frog, toad, salamander, fish, hawk, owl, skunk, waterfowl, song birds, coyote, insects, and many more.
There is no date available, but it is known that Native Americans inhabited the area near the site of the SchoolForest sometime after the retreat of the last glacier which created the unique ridges and swales. There is a site on the south side of Molash Creek (in Point Beach State Forest) where chips can be found which were remnants of arrowhead making. The chips are from orange igneous rocks. Since no igneous rocks are found in this area, the rocks had to be carried in. There is an old Indian road, which ran from Green Bay to Milwaukee along the lakeshore.
From the early 1800s onward, lumber and forestry products were the major industries. In 1852, 90% of the exports were lumber and forestry products. Wood was used for posts, shingles and lathes. The hemlock trees from Two Rivers north to Two Creeks were cut for lumber. The bark was used in the tanning industry (from which Tannery Road received its name). Peeling and boiling the hemlock bark produced tannic acid, which was used in the softening of animal hides, as they became leather. The logs were sent to the area sawmills to become lumber.
Firewood was cut to fire the many steamships which frequented the area. The wood was hauled to Lake Michigan piers for the ships. The wholeSchool Forest property was eventually logged off. It is reported that—at any time during this period—people could stand on the shore near theSchool Forest property and see at least two steam ships. The SS Vernon sank off the School Forest property and floated to the southeast. Many people drowned, were unidentified, and are buried in a mass grave in Two Rivers. In 1872, shipping logs reflect that there were fewer forestry products and more agricultural products, such as wheat, beef, and hides being shipped. This indicated that the land had been cleared for farming. The climate was found to be conducive for agriculture as it was level and with decent soil. The soil absorbed moisture from the lake during the night to enhance growing.
The infamous Peshtigo Fire began on October 8, 1871, and burned into northeastern Wisconsin, including what is now School Forest property. The story has been written up in the Manitowoc Historical Society monoliths. On the south eighty, there are no really big, old trees. What are big trees now would have been very young at that time.
Another fire on the property occurred in 1954 between the lake and the lodge area. Taking two days to put it out, no one knows how it started. Traces can still be seen. By reaching into the hollowed-out trunks, charcoal can be extracted.
In 1998, a small forest fire burned one acre. On April 24, 2000, approximately 15-20 acres in the northeast part of the South 80 were burned in a forest fire. The cause of both of these fires is unknown.
Also there are two trash piles on the property known formerly as the Rebarchek farm. One is near the pond and the other is southwest of the hemlock forest. The property was purchased in 1955 so the piles preceded this date. Glass and heavier metals have been found but, interestingly, no plastics have been found.
The idea of establishing a School Forest came about through a series of events. In 1950, a group of fifth and sixth graders planted trees at Silver Creek Park in Manitowoc. At Madison School, excitement for the environment was created by a Conservation Corner started in Mr. Allen Peterson’s class. Also at Madison, Petrea Rahr was in Mr. Eugene Krejcarek’s class where they listened to the “Ranger Mac” program. Petrea’s father, Guido Rahr, showed a great interest in helping advance environmental education for the students of Manitowoc. These events built the connections within the community to begin the process of starting a School Forest.
In December of 1954, the Rahr Foundation purchased land from David Le Clair for the Manitowoc Public School Districtto use as a location for tree planting. A second parcel of land was purchased from Joseph and Cyril Gehl. Both of these pieces of land were officially dedicated as the Rahr Memorial School Forest on May 1, 1955. The first official trees were planted by Mark Hooper, president of the Board of Education, and Mr. Clarence Alt, treasurer of the Rahr Foundation.
As the 1955-56 school year began, many teachers started to request visits to the forest. To accommodate these groups, discussion began to build a classroom building. The building would also provide an ideal spot for the sixth grade camping program which had started in 1952. This program was started on a trial basis by Mr. Ed Ehlert, principal, and Mr Joseph Rappel, sixth grade teacher, from McKinley School. It was expanded to include all elementary schools in 1953. The camp took place at Camp Shaganappi on Lake Winnebago for sixth years and then at Camp Bird in Crivitz.
The new building was constructed through the efforts of many community groups, Manitowoc families, companies, public entities, and individuals. MPSD staff and supporters worked hard to raise funds. Madison school principal, Ivon Greene, McKinley School principal, Ed Ehlert, andMadison teacher, Eugene Krejcarek were among the advocates of the project. The first sixth grade camp in the new Lodge started on April 28, 1959.
An additional 25 acres of land was purchased from George and Joseph Rebarchek in 1961. The 40 acre Lenhart property was purchased in 1962. About 26 acres of land was purchased from Adolph Grimm and Louis Saubert in 1964. Sixty more acres were purchased from George and Joseph Rebarchek in 1970. The last properties were bought from Mark Hooper in 1991 and Nancy Hooper Horvath in 1997.
1956 – A fundraising campaign helped in construction of a Lodge for overnight use.
1959 – The Lodge was completed. The first overnight event took place in the spring. (Later to be named the Ehlert Lodge.)
1963 – A second building was constructed to provide housing for the cooks and storage. (Later to be named the Ivon Greene Building.)
1969 – A telescope was built and donated by Dr. John Larsen.
1969 – Lee Braunel started the observation posts project. Posts were installed throughout the forest. Photos and student writings document the post sites over the years.
1977 – A third classroom building was constructed. (Later to be named the Eugene Krejcarek Study Center.)
1983 – A wildlife pond was created and a pathway was constructed with funds from the Rahr Foundation.
1983 – The school board honored three MPSD administrators for their efforts “in organizing, securing, and developing the Rahr School Forestproperty, buildings, and program.” The three School Forest buildings were named after them.
1996 – Curt Kittleson was hired as the first School Forest Director. Until this time, the role was filled by an elementary principal along with their regular duties. Curt Kittleson retired as the principal of Madison School, but continued to be the Director on a part-time basis. This allowed him to help teach classes at the forest and develop many new programs for use at the School Forest.
2002 – Patty Brodeen Maher was hired as the first full-time School Forest Coordinator after Curt Kittleson retired.
2004 – Construction of a new classroom building began.
2005 – On May 1st, the 50-year anniversary was celebrated at the School Forest. An estimated 500 people attended the Forest Festival.
2006 – A Wisconsin Environmental Education Board grant was received to create a School Forest Education Plan.
2007 – The fourth classroom building was finished with the support of area businesses, community members, the Rahr Foundation, and school district funds. The building was named the Environmental Learning Center.
2007 - A deer exclosure built in the hemlock forest.
2007 - The Ice Age Trail was created through the School Forest.
2009 - The Nature Play Area was completed through volunteer hours, a grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, and partnerships with local organizations and companies.
2009 - A new large deck was built on the Krejcarek Study Center.
2010 - Work started on building a boardwalk across the swamp to the pond.
2011 - The first timber sale on the School Forest was completed.
2011 - A deer exclosure was built in the clear cut area along Frog Lane.
2013 - The 1640 foot swamp boardwalk is completed thanks to 4851 hours of volunteer work!
2013 - Kelly Vorron is hired as the School Forest Coordinator after Patty Maher left the position to move closer to family.
For more information about the events and people that made the School Forest possible, please see “Rahr Memorial School ForestHistory” written by Eugene Krejcarek.