Great Outdoors University

Sealing A Partnership
Join the Band

Educating and engaging Charlotte’s youngest conservationists

Education is one of TreesCharlotte’s core focus areas, and a partnership with Great Outdoors University (GoU) has allowed the organization to educate and engage Charlotte’s youngest conservationists at its tree planting events.

Based in Charlotte, Great Outdoors University is an experiential education program created by the National Wildlife Federation and North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Through day trips and family fun days, Great Outdoors University brings outdoor adventures to kids of all ages and their families.

In 2013, former TreesCharlotte Executive Director Dave Cable reached out to ask if Great Outdoors could augment its tree plantings with some educational components for students young and old. The two organizations have been partnering ever since, with Great Outdoors University scheduled to appear at nine planting events through March 2018.

GoU’s activities and exhibits on display at tree planting events include tree cookie puzzles, or puzzles made from cross sections of tree trunks, which spark discussions about the clues held within about that particular tree’s life.

Another exhibit is “duff dwellers,” a look at leaf litter and decomposing logs that educates kids about the role trees serve in our ecosystem even after they die. GoU staffers talk about the various fungi, bacteria and insects that help to break logs down and turn them into soil, and they also discuss how those logs and snags provide vital habitat for over 1,000 species of wildlife nationwide as they are repurposed into homes for wildlife.

A GoU exhibit that speaks to young and old is the “model home,” a miniature single-family property with a variety of native and non-native trees that kids can choose from to plant around the property. The catch: If a “homeowner” chooses a non-native tree such as a Bradford Pear, they’ll learn about the challenges of maintaining those species and the increased benefits of selecting native species. Similarly, if they plant a tree with a large stature, they’ll learn about the importance of planning for mature growth and the potential for a larger tree to intersect with power lines.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to teach about the vital roles and many benefits trees have in our lives and how to care for and nurture them,” says Mary Bures, director of Great Outdoors University.

For more information about Great Outdoors University, visit