Important, educational walk among the trees

John Elwell talks about the tree walk located on his farm that two interns created. 

Allies and Partners

Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship with an appreciation for our surroundings and the well-being of future generations. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

Actively involving students in an environmental project is rewarding on many levels.

The Indian Hill Reservoir Tree Walk in West Newbury, which was created by Newburyport High School students Jackson Darling and Nicolas Forestell, interns for Maple Crest Farms, is an example.

With my guidance, the two students identified and named 16 trees around the Indian Hill Reservoir roadway. While the Indian Hill Reservoir is in West Newbury, it is owned and managed by Newburyport.

Interns identified each of the trees and developed plaques

Nicolas and Jackson researched and identified each of the trees and then developed educational plaques for each of the tree species, which included the English and Latin names of the trees, a picture of the leaf or needle, and an informative writeup of the tree’s history, its impact on the environment, and its use in our lives.

For example, the write-up on a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) included that “the wood is famous for its tough, yet flexible qualities and is used to make carriage wheels, tool handles, and sporting equipment. The savory and sweet nuts are also best tasting of any Hickory and were used extensively by Native Americans.”

The write-up for a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) says it was used to build the first homes at Jamestown and the American ships at the Battle of Plattsburg Bay during the War of 1812. It is said the durable wood helped the ships hold up against the British cannons – helping the Americans win the battle.

In yet another tree description, the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) write-up states that it is the most wide-ranging tree in North America. It reproduces by cloning and one clone in Utah is over 80,000 years old, covering 100 acres.

These are just a few of the research and write-ups that Jackson and Nicolas created. Even the name of the project, the Indian Hill Reservoir Tree Walk, was suggested by Nicolas.

"Their work is most impressive and environmentally relevant"

Their work is most impressive and environmentally relevant. In all my years in education observing student work, these two students are at the top of the list! They even used the NHS school colors, crimson and old gold, for the borders of the signs.

We were fortunate also to have Coastal SpeedPro Imaging, a sign company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, generously volunteer to produce the signs for no charge. The signs are printed on one-eighth-inch-thick aluminum composite material that has a PVC plastic material core.

"reinforces a critical message about the importance of trees"

The stewardship work by Jackson and Nicolas reinforces a critical message about the importance of trees in our world. In fact, trees are sometimes called the lungs of the Earth because they absorb pollutants through their leaves.

Trees contribute to our environment by providing the oxygen we need to live, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil and supporting wildlife. Without trees, we would not be here.

If you have not walked the Indian Hill Reservoir Tree Walk yet, we encourage you to do so and enjoy the knowledge gained from the signage. There is parking for it right next to the Reservoir roadway on Moulton Street.

It is ACES’ desire to have this project be a model for others, which will educate more citizens and visitors about the importance of trees. Our youths are ready for the next project.

This column was coordinated by ACES Youth Corps member Caleb Bradshaw. To share any comments or questions, send an email to To learn more about ACES, go to

John Elwell is owner of Maple Crest Farm in West Newbury. He can be contacted at

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about the author
John Elwell

John grew up in nearby Byfield, attended GDA, and then received his BA in Economics and Masters in Mathematics Education from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. His career in education was significant as he then taught mathematics for 10 years at Dunbar High School in the District of Columbia. In 1979, he became Assistant Principal at Hamilton-Wenham and 3 years later, became Principal. After 19 years as Principal at HWRHS he pro-tired and immediately became the interim Principal at Newburyport High School from 2001 to 2003. From 2003 to 2017 he ran workshops for teachers and administrators in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and New York City.

A founding member of the Newburyport Education Foundation, John continues to educate others whenever there is an opportunity. In 2002 John and his wife, Carol, bought the Elwell family farm in West Newbury. An ACES Ally, Maple Crest Farms serves as a learning center for other educational entities and John, a member of the BOD, mentors Youth Corps interns whenever possible.  

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