Wheels to Woods helps educators pay costs to get kids outside

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Children stand in front of a yellow school bus in a forest setting.

What is Wheels to Woods? A great opportunity!

This is a short update from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources about resources for getting students outdoors and in touch with the forest. We hope that this information will help you learn about bringing young people outdoors and the importance of educating our next generation about Michigan forests.

Kids are experiencing 'nature deficit disorder'

“Nature deficit disorder” describes how children are disconnected from nature because they spend most of their time inside with smartphones, television and computers instead of playing outside with friends, classmates and families.

Richard Louv popularized the term in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.”

The lack of outdoor time is true for both urban and rural children and appears to be getting worse as more children have smartphones instead of hiking sticks. However, many organizations are working to get children outside to discover the fun they can have in Michigan’s beautiful forests.

Kids from Lincoln International School in Kalamazoo took a Wheels to Woods field trip in 2020.

How does Wheels to Woods work?

 Wheels to Woods, hosted by the Michigan Tree Farm System in partnership with the DNR Forest Resources Division, works to do just that. School field trips are a great way to get students outside to learn about the forest, but many schools in Michigan do not have money dedicated for transportation. Through Wheels to Woods, foresters help teachers by providing transportation costs up to $350 per bus and up to $1,000 per school for any educational field trip to any forest.

Since it started in 2016, Wheels to Woods has paid for about 480 field trips that have brought about 43,000 students, 2,000 teachers and 5,700 parents into the forest. Students have studied Great Lakes coastal forests, wetlands, forest management, invasive plants, endangered species and maple syrup production.

They have even explored the forest by canoe. Students have gone to nature centers, county parks, state parks, family forests, national forests and forests owned by their schools. Trips have taken place all over the state. Michigan borrowed the idea from Oregon, and Wisconsin has since followed suit with its own program. 

Wheels to Woods is funded primarily by grants to the DNR from the USDA Forest Service. Other supporters include Michigan Tree Farm System, American Forest Foundation, Michigan Forest Products Council, Lake Superior Watershed Partnership, Michigan Association of Timbermen, Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Michigan Forest Foundation, Michigan Project Learning Tree, Michigan Society of American Foresters, and other foresters and forest products companies.

A path leads into colorful orange/yellow trees in the Pigeon River Country State Forest.

What else can you do to get kids into nature?

There are a variety of things that you can do to help get students outside and into a forest.

  • Volunteer with a local Scout, church or other youth groups to help them go hiking or camping in the woods this summer.
  • If you own forest land, you can host an educational field trip to your forest for a nearby school. Call your local school and offer to host a trip.
  • “Like” the Michigan Tree Farm System Facebook page to see lots of photos of students outside exploring the forest.
  • Share the news about Wheels to Woods funding with teachers at your local school or nearby nature center. The application form with instructions is located at wheelstowoods.org.
  • Donate to the Michigan Tree Farm System to help support more Wheels to Woods trips. Credit card donations to the program can be made by texting W2W to 80888. You can also send a check payable to “Michigan Tree Farm Committee” with “Wheels to Woods” in the memo line. Checks can be sent to P.O. Box 717, Roscommon, MI 48653.

Sixth Graders in orange safety vests and hard hats gather around a tree to measure and examine it during a fWheels to Woods field trip.

Wheels to Woods highlight of the year

Since 2017, Washington Middle School in Calumet has used Wheels to Woods funds to take students to the CLK School Forest as part of their sixth-grade Stewardship Program. During this two-day trip, students had the opportunity to put on their “junior forester” caps and create their own forest management plans by conducting a woodland inventory of the forest.

Darrell Hendrickson, now-retired sixth-grade teacher, was able to use his forestry degree to enhance all parts of the field trip with forest and wildlife management guidance.

“The best part of the visit for us was to see students interacting in and with the forest ecosystem, especially since we have not been able to have field trips with the advent of COVID,” he wrote in a post-trip report. “After much practice and building this as an important job, being able to see how the students embrace their jobs and engage in the two days of activities really gave us a sense of class accomplishment. This year students really paid attention to detail when investigating the local forest and the cultural and historical landscape."

Teacher Mr. Hendrickson holds an award he earned for getting kids out into nature.

In recognition of his time and dedication to bringing Washington Middle School students on such remarkable trips to the CLK School Forest over the years, the Wheels to Woods team has given Hendrickson the first ever “Outstanding W2W Educator” Award along with a membership in the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education. Washington Middle School’s trips represent  what Wheels to Woods is all about and we hope to see more wonderful Wheels to Woods trips like this one in the future!

"I couldn’t have done any of this without the great sixth and seventh-grade teacher teams and supportive administration I have had the privilege of working over the many years we have done these stewardship projects," Hendrickson said.


  • To learn more about Wheels to Woods, contact the current Huron Pines AmeriCorps W2W administrator at admin@wheelstowoods.org or program lead Mike Smalligan, DNR Forest Stewardship Coordinator, at SmalliganM@Michigan.gov or 517-449-5666.
  • To learn more about programs available to assist private forest landowners, or to find the DNR service forester in your area, go to the DNR's page for educators