Third-grade student Logan Connolly, 9, recently won a $1,000 scholarship from Kohl’s for pursuing just that. When Logan was 7, on his usual walk home from Chambers Elementary school through the serene, wooded path of Chambers farm one January afternoon last year, he saw something which he hadn’t seen on his way to school that morning: a crew cutting down his treasured maple trees.
“I stopped in my tracks with my mouth wide open,” Logan recalled. “I was like, ‘What the heck?’”
The former maple-lined trail housed bluebirds and other wildlife fostered by the school’s Bluebird Club. Logan told his mother about his concerns, and rather than dismissing the matter as being hopeless, Kim and Logan drafted a letter to the Chambers’ teachers asking for support to contact the developer to see about preserving some of the trees and habitat.
“The reason I was so upset about the forest is that I liked it for my imagination,” Logan explained. “I would make-up all kinds of things on that path.”
“We knew that they were talking about development,” said Logan’s mom, Kim Connolly. “We knew there was talk, but didn’t know it was happening and that it had been approved.” The development that was underway was Steve Aaron’s senior housing complex, The Birches at Chambers, which now abuts the school’s backyard with the bluebird trail and school gardens.
“Dear Teachers,” Logan’s letter read, “Some of the trees next to our school have been cut down. If you could help us write letters to Mr. Steve Aaron, the leader of this process, maybe we can have a project of planting trees in the spring. I want to plant more trees so the animals will have a nice place to fly. Thank you for your support.”
Logan’s appeal to the teachers worked: January through March 2009 the school children and whole classes generated more than 60 concerned letters to Aaron, detailing their feelings and fears about seeing the trees felled and the land developed, expressing concerns for birds, squirrels and even the trees and shrubs. Many of the kids requested for the trees to be “donated back to nature,” and most contained hand-drawn pictures depicting animals, birds, and baby creatures among trees. Logan said that he was desperately hoping for the chance to present the letters to Aaron in person; however since the opportunity was not made available to him despite several efforts, he instead gave the letters to then-Ulster Town Supervisor Nicky Woerner to hand off to Aaron.
“We were getting into spring and the garden clubs were starting again,” continued Kim. “In the first week in June, the garden was vandalized” — another emotional pitfall for the nature-loving schoolchildren. Once the school finished collecting all the letters, they then reached out to Woerner, who arranged a meeting between Logan, himself and project site supervisor Joe Boris to review the landscaping plans. Upon seeing the initial site plans, Logan was unimpressed. “I didn’t think it included enough trees,” Logan said. “It didn’t have enough plantings in general.” According to Kim, Woerner concurred as well and assured Logan that changes would be made based on his concerns.
In September 2009, Logan met again with Woerner and Mike Masters, the landscaper at the construction, where they presented Logan with revised plans, which included some pleasing improvements. “They had a butterfly garden and more plants,” said Logan. “Basically, more nature.” They also agreed to switch from the previously planned obstructive stockade fence to a more appealing and friendlier split-rail; thus also allowing the seniors to sit in their community center to watch the kids play. Logan asked for plants that are specific to bluebird habitation as well.
Later that month, Woerner and Masters met again with the Chambers Gardening Club to show the kids their plans. Masters delighted the junior gardeners by offering to build two new planting beds for them.
Oct. 15, 2009, saw the dedication of two new gardening beds; the day was declared “The Chambers School Bluebird-Nature Club day” in the Town of Ulster. The kids even invited the seniors over for the garden club party and served foods grown in the garden. That night, Logan was sworn in as Ulster’s honorary deputy supervisor and even received a badge.
The seniors enjoyed themselves so thoroughly that the following week that they invited the gardeners to their place for lunch. Logan and his mother have since delivered several baskets of the school garden’s harvest to the seniors.
Logan’s primary outlet for his love of nature is Kingston’s own Forsyth Nature Center, run by environmental educators Steve and Julie Noble, where he has spent half his lifetime developing a sophisticated understanding and deep appreciation for his natural environment through the center’s camps, workshops and programs. Kim is the center’s chairperson for raising funds, as well as working part-time at Ulster Savings Bank. Logan also does the school’s gardening club, and kayaks with his folks. Life’s not all outdoors for this boy, who bowls weekly in a league as well, like his big brother who is attending college with a partial scholarship for his bowling skills.
“Logan took it all very personally,” said Chambers school librarian and gardening club advisor Charlotte Adamis. “He is a young man who has a great feeling about the environment, and has a great feeling about what is going on. He took a real leadership role in advocacy, and advocating for reconstruction of the habitat. He really set an example for all our students. He is just wonderful. I just love that kid ... I have watched him grow and develop into a powerful young man.” Adamis has known Logan since kindergarten as his librarian.
Logan has his sites set on bigger gardens for his lifetime dream: the White House gardens. Logan has been aspiring to become president, and even harangued his mother on a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the White House so they could all see where Logan is “going to live.”
“We all know it’s true.” Logan remarked.
As for his winnings, Logan spent his Kohl’s $50 gift card on Ben10 figures.