Daily Star photo/KATIE ROHMAN New Tech “facilitator” Mike Vota, far right, guides his “advisory group” on a walking tour of the Riverfront Park trail Wednesday. The school is partnering with the City of Niles on a trail sign project.

Archived Story

New Tech creating trail signs

Published 11:54pm Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The City of Niles is partnering with Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy to create and post along the Riverfront Park recreational trail a series of interpretive signs depicting native organisms of the river area.
More than 120 students, all enrolled in Bio Art, along with several parent volunteers, were bused to the park Wednesday

Daily Star photo/KATIE ROHMAN New Tech “facilitator” Kelley Watson, left, and “learner” Coty Krueger, 15, take notes about birds, plants and animals along the Riverfront Park trail. The school is partnering with the City of Niles to create signage for the trail.

morning for a walking tour of the trail.
The “learners” — as they are called in the new project-based learning school — identified organisms of the open field, forest, river and swamp, said “facilitator” (teacher) Courtney Dwyer. They will create food webs for the organisms, draw realistic sketches of them and determine which ones will be featured on the signs.
New Tech students will partner with Ring Lardner Middle School to build the signposts. The project is slated for completion by the end of this month.
City officials were on hand Wednesday to explain to the students what they are looking for in signage and why their help is important.
“The trail is one of our pride and joys in Niles,” said Juan Ganum, community development director. “At one point, this place was industrialized.”
The city owns two-thirds of the east bank of the river, which cuts the city from east to west. The 2.25-mile trail was completed in 2010. It cost $340,000 to complete the project, with the city and a grant splitting the cost.
The city budget, however, didn’t allow for interpreted signage. New Tech contacted the city about partnering for a sign project.
“We don’t have an preconceived notions of what these signs should look like,” Ganum explained to the students.
Ganum did offer some suggestions for the signs, and advised avoiding sign clutter and building signs that will be easy to maintain.
One plant of interest to the city is the prairie trillium, a rare flower that was discovered during the trail project.
“A couple years ago, this one small plant with white flowers nearly derailed the entire project,” Ganum said.
The plant went dormant before it could be relocated. The city eventually got permission from the state to continue the project.
The New Tech group walked the trail while taking notes and photos and videos with their smartphones to identify native wildlife and plants. They then researched the riverbanks for samples of organisms.
“The city has never really partnered with Niles Schools, so hopefully this will lead to more projects,” Ganum said.

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