GREENBELT – A local nature group continues to battle the city over its use of a 200-acre forest preserve for classes. City councilmembers say the group, Ancestral Knowledge, is trying to make money off of the forest while a member of the Greenbelt Forest Preserve Advisory Board supporting the organization said he thinks the city […]
GREENBELT – A local nature group continues to battle the city over its use of a 200-acre forest preserve for classes. City councilmembers say the group, Ancestral Knowledge, is trying to make money off of the forest while a member of the Greenbelt Forest Preserve Advisory Board supporting the organization said he thinks the city is in the wrong.
“The amount of money is a pittance,” said Willis Witter. “The city treats its trees like children and its children like logs heading to the sawmill.”
Ancestral Knowledge has been contending with city officials for two years over the issue of whether the group is commercializing the forest by charging for its skill classes. Since 2010, AK has been teaching home-schooled kids meeting at the Mowatt United Methodist Church various skills including tracking, building debris huts, making natural cordage, nature journaling and how to make wood-friction fires. The lessons usually include a hike in the woods.
“We are trying to get the kids outdoors to savor nature, help them have a relationship with nature, that is, something they value so that when they grow up, they will want to savor it,” said Jonathan Murray, co-founder of the organization.
At a Greenbelt City Council meeting earlier this month, Murray brought up his petition for the city to review its policy regarding access to the woods for nature classes which charge program fees. Mayor Emmett Jordan told Murray the city council tentatively plans to take up the issue at its June 16th meeting.
In Oct. 2012, city officials told the AK instructors its classes in the woods would no longer be allowed because of the fees after City Solicitor Robert Manzi ruled the forest preserve may not be used by groups whose activities are chiefly commercial. Additionally, even though AK is a nonprofit the city considers its classes a business, said City Councilman Rodney Roberts.
“There is a prohibition of commercialization of the forest preserve. You can’t make money off the forest,” Roberts said. “I think that’s a good idea. If you have a commercialized forest eventually you won’t have forest. The forest preserve is for people to enjoy, not for some people to make money off of. If you put the environment up against money, money will usually win,” Roberts said.
AK’s fees are not cheap, Roberts said, and he remains concerned if AK is allowed to charge for its activities it will cause a trickle-down effect.
“Someone is making money,” Roberts said. “If you let AK in, you’ll have to let every other [commercial] group in.”
AK home-schoolers are taking their classes at the Whitemarsh Park in Bowie, where park officials allow AK to teach its skills courses as long as the organization does not collect fees in the woods themselves. Roberts, Witter and the Murray brothers noted the contentious debate during the past two years has been frustrating.
Murray, 38, his brother Joseph Murray 39, and six other nature enthusiasts co-founded Ancestral Knowledge. The orgranization conducts classes on forest ecology and woodland survival skills at five different locations in the Metro area every weekday, chiefly catering to home-schoolers, Joseph said. The students range in age from 7 to 15, and pay fees of $240 to $270 for the six-week sessions.