Year Two, Wilsonart Riley Woods Project

  • The first thing we see as we walk into the Riley Woods is the installation Sky Opening, which opens the forest floor to sunlight. This work by the artists of WatershedSculpture was supported by Wilsonart and Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

  • Blue skies above plantation pines at Riley Woods. These trees were planted 70 years ago as way to protect used-up soils and provide trees for utility poles.

  • Some students have never seen or held a toad before! We are getting to know the citizens of Riley Woods!

  • Mushrooms emerge after a September rain.

Carter and Ash
September 18, 2018


Welcome to Ecology @ Riley Woods blog post series. Ecology students at Interlochen Arts Academy are supported for the second year by Wilsonart. Ash and Carter write the first post:

 Have you ever been in a science class where you were bored to death? Me too.

After years of biology, chemistry, even advanced chemistry, I felt bored out of my mind. Now, for the first time in my academic career, I am finally enjoying my science class. I’m taking ecology, and my teacher believes in taking full advantage of the wonderful environment that surrounds us as part of education. Our Ecology class is helping to return a pine plantation to a natural forest, and our efforts can serve an artistic purpose as well. I’ve never been more inspired by environmental work in my life. Not only do we get to have hands on opportunities to help in the process, but we were provided with an amazing assortment of filming technology to document and capture the habitat in all of its beauty.

On our first trip out to the Riley Woods, our Ecology class headed south down the path. On the east horizon was the sun (morning) but gradually it moved to be right above us (noon) by the time we left the woods. Visiting artists had trekked through the same trail and painted the tips of tree stubs red for the “aesthetic.” We learned that some trees had been cut down to stubs to allow light to enter the woods.

But why make a pine plantation? Why plant white pines (distinguished by having five pine needles in a bunch and a dark bark) and red pines (distinguished by having two pine needles in a bunch and, self explanatory, red bark)? When people voyaged to Michigan years ago and exploited the land, they realized the soil was made of sand and considered it poor soil. Because it’s difficult to farm on, they planted trees.

The trees in the plantation had fewer branches and they were skinnier than the native trees. The plantation has three times the amount of trees it should have and the pines were planted too close together. At a certain angle, you can see a straight row of trees. There is also not a grand diversity of age within the plantation, unlike the native side of the forest.

            On our hike, we also found many mushrooms that sprouted from the intense rainfall and there was even a slug feeding off the nutrients that the mushroom was repurposing. The fauna of the forest hid from us, except for one small American Toad. Many students, including Zach and Carys, got to hold this toad in their hands until she hopped away.

            Finally, we came to a clearing, “The North Coop,” where (guest artist) Lydia Hicks waited for us with equipment. In this section we were joined by the head of Motion Picture Arts and Interlochen Public Radio. We were introduced to solar panels and power packs, a time lapse camera, audio recorders, and an endoscopic camera. We also got to see a camera marketed as a “ghost hunting camera” which shoots in infrared for night time videoing (in case anyone has some “creative” ideas for their artist in residence projects…), a location tracking camera, and a canon 5D with a macro lens or telephoto lens.