Hands-on, Hearts-on Learning

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LCMM Students Meet Boat-building Pines

Each January, local high school students in the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) Longboats Program jump into an intensive, semester-long process of building a traditional wooden boat together. One of the first things they do is head out into the woods with Vermont Family Forests executive director and conservation forester David Brynn to meet the trees and forests that yield boat-building wood. David and LCMM longboats program director and master boatbuilder Nick Patch have orchestrated this outing each year since the program began more two decades ago. That outing is always special, but this year, it topped the charts.

If you don’t yet know about LCMM’s boat-building program, you can read about it in one of our recent blogs. In February, this year’s students—from Middlebury High School and Addison Wayfinder Experience—met David at the Kenyon family forest in Monkton, where Tom Kenyon and his son David were in the midst of a major timber harvest. 

Students arrive at Kenyon Family Forest as logging operation is underway.

Tom and David K had been laying the careful groundwork for this harvest for about 25 years, encouraging high-quality timber through pre-commercial thinning. As a high schooler, David K. had earned money selling firewood harvest from these woods. 

When David B met the LCMM students that crisp February morning, harvest conditions in the forest were perfect. Skid roads were well frozen, ensuring minimal disturbance to forest soils and access trails. Tom and David K. were doing the logging themselves, and they had already cut many beautiful, high-quality logs and skidded them to the log landing along Piney Woods Road. 

Log broker Jon Anderson’s double-trailered log truck at the log landing when kids arrived, in process of loading veneer logs. As the students took in the scene, David B introduced them to how a logging operation works. They then headed into the woods and explored the basics of forest health and tree identification. 

The kids then used VFF cruising sticks to measure tree heights and diameters. They calculated the volume of standing trees and logs to get a feel for how many logs are needed to build a longboat. (It takes about 1000 board feet—mainly pine heartwood, but also white oak for the ribs and gunwales—to build a 32-foot pilot gig.)

As they walked through the forest, David B pointed out two big, beautiful, standing white pines marked for cutting, which seemed especially good for boat-building—big and slow-grown, with minimal sapwood (which is not rot-resistant). Nick agreed wholeheartedly. The kids the measured trees—well over 30 inches in diameter—and calculated volumes. 

“Nick said, yes we’d like to buy this,” David B recalls. “And Dave [Kenyon] said, ‘Shall we harvest it?’ And that’s just what happened.” 

Tom and David Kenyon

“The kids got to get the vibe of the tree, there with man who would cut it and man who would buy it,” David B. said. As David K prepared to cut the tree, David B explained to the students the process of felling a tree to maximize safety and minimize the possibility of damaging the logs. 

The big pine was full of snow, more than 100 years old, and more than 100 feet tall. When David K finished his cut, the tree came down slowly, landing right where he intended. A big puff of snow filled the air. 

“For a moment, there was dead silence,” David B remembered. “Then the students gave a big cheer. It was awesome.” 

“There was nothing theoretical about this experience,” he said, “The kids were totally engaged. I don’t think any of them had seen anything like this.”

Students take a close look at one of the white pines that will be trucked to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for milling.

David K measured out a 22-foot log for LCMM. He backed the skidder up to the log, put a choker around it, and pulled it to landing, where it would later be loaded on a truck and brought to the LCMM campus in Vergennes. There the log will be sawed into boards with a portable bandmill. The students will stack and sticker the wood for drying, and future students will use it to build their boat, just as these students are now building their boat with wood prepared for them by students in years past.

David B grins as he remembers the day. “The process involved a lot of care and a lot of soul. The kids liked it, the teachers liked it, the forester liked it, the buyer and landowners liked it.”

From our perspective at VFF, it doesn’t get better.

Vermont Family Forests executive director David Brynn talks with LCMM students about forest ecology and careful harvest of trees for the museum’s boat-building program.
Students in the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Longboats Program in the Kenyon Family Forest, 2022.