Unity West Elementary School
If you aren’t from the prairie,
You don’t know our trees.
You can’t know our trees.
The trees that we know have taken so long,
To live through our seasons, to grow tall and strong.
They’re loved and they’re treasured, we watched as they grew,
We knew they were special – the prairie has few.
If you’re not from the prairie,
You don’t know our trees.
“If you’re not from the prairie,”
The History of West Woods
West Woods is a unique outdoor environmental classroom on the campus of Unity West Elementary School in Tolono, Illinois. West Woods was established in the fall of 2004 with the planting of more than one hundred trees in the southeast corner of the school’s campus, but the seeds of West Woods were planted within the minds of the local education community long before the completion of the school itself. Planning for West Woods began in 2000 even though Unity West would not open until the fall of 2002. It was in 2000 that a group of teachers from Unity West’s predecessors, the Tolono, Sadorus, and Pesotum Grade Schools, attended a three-day workshop presented by the Champaign County Forest Preserve staff at the Middle Fork Forest Preserve. As these teachers spent the night camping in the forest, they discussed ways that environmental education could be incorporated at the planned Unity West campus. This core group of teachers began a dialogue among the school staff that led to the formation of the basic concept of West Woods. The project was designed to be a long lasting learning environment whose growth and maintenance would be dependent on the efforts of every student in the school. Each student would develop a sense of ownership and stewardship in not only the Unity West campus but also the natural history of Champaign County.
A selection of trees native to Champaign County was chosen through the collaborative efforts of both the school staff and the Champaign County Forest Preserve. The Forest Preserve staff also conducted classroom presentations focusing on tree structure, species identification, and the role of trees in healthy ecosystems. On September 29 and 30, 2004, the entire school community participated in planting, watering, staking, and mulching the trees that would form West Woods. In the fall of each year since 2004 the school has conducted a West Woods Workday. This day provides each new kindergarten class as well as all students new to the school with the opportunity to participate in the growth of West Woods by planting new trees; all students take part in the maintenance of West Woods by helping to weed, water, and mulch the existing trees. The students’ continuing involvement in the project allows them to gain a sense of pride and ownership in this educational community resource. As the forest matures it will become not only a natural habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, but also an educational resource for both the students of Unity West and the entire southwest Champaign County community.
West Woods Species List
Click on the scientific name for more information.
Accolade Elm Ulmus x Accolade
American Ash Fraxinus americana
Autumn Fantasy Maple Acer Freemanii
Baldcypress Taxodium distichum
Black Gum Nyssa sylvatica
Black Oak Quercus velutina
Black Walnut Juglans nigra
Bladdernut Staphylea trifolia
Buckeye Aesculus glabra
Bur Oak Quercus macrocarpa
Butternut Juglans cinerea
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
Catalpa Catalpa speciosa
Chinquapin Oak Quercus muehlenbergii
Chokecherry Prunus virginiana
Crimson King Maple Acer platanoides
Flowering Crabapple Malus x 'Prairifire'
Forsythia Forsythia x intermedia
Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba
Golden Weeping Willow Salix alba ‘Tristis’
Green Ash Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Kentucky Coffeetree Gymnocladus dioica
Linden (Basswood) Tilia americana
Ninebark Physocarpos opulifolius
Northern Pin Oak Quercus ellipsoidalis
Persimmon Diospyros virginiana
Red Oak Quercus rubra
Redbud Cercis canadensis
River Birch Betula nigra
Sassafras Sassafras albidum
Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea
Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata
Swamp White Oak Quercus bicolor
Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
Sycamore Platanus occidentalis
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera
White Oak Quercus alba
Wild Black Cherry Prunus serotine
West Woods Map
Please click here to view a map of West Woods.
The West Woods at Unity West Elementary School has been established and maintained through the generous support of the entire community. Over $3000 donated by students and families (represented by leaves on the tree in the above picture)
A $2500 grant from the Illinois Conservation Foundation
$1500 grant from Pioneer Hi-bred
Labor and expertise donated by the Champaign County Forest Preserve
Mulch donated by the Recycling Center of Champaign-Urbana
Trees, shrubs, and perennials donated by Kleiss Nursery
Donations by Hidden Acres Nursery
$500 donated by Monical’s Pizza of Tolono
Future plans for West Woods include:
Continued maintenance (mulching, pruning, staking, watering)
New plants (trees, understory plants, flowering trees, shrubs)
Bird houses and feeders
Signage and tree labels
If you would like to contribute to the future of West Woods, you can send a donation to:
C/O Unity West Elementary School
1035 CR 600N
Tolono, IL 61880