The sun shone brightly and a light breeze left a chill in the air on the morning of Friday, Nov. 13, as a small group assembled at the Winterset Schools Outdoor Classroom south of the high school.
Aaron and Mindy Vetter with their son, Jaden, and cousin, Reagan Miller, gathered with Madison County Conservation Board Director Jim Liechty, Naturalist Amy Warnke, and members of the Madison County Foundation for Environmental Education. They met on what would have been the 16th birthday of Autumn Vetter, a young Winterset student who had a passion for the outdoors. A ceremony would soon begin, to celebrate Autumn’s life and to dedicate a new sign at the trailhead of the classroom.
Members of the biology class and a few of Autumn’s friends were also in attendance as Liechty began the ceremony, directing the audience’s focus to the sign that sits at the beginning of the trail. The sign welcomes visitors to “Autumn’s Pathway” which was made possible by the Vetter family in memory of their daughter.
This interpretive pathway winds through the wild elements of the outdoor classroom, allowing youth to share Vetter’s passion for the outdoors. They will have the opportunity to watch pollinators in the butterfly gardens, learn to identify common types of trees in the arboretum, study seed dispersal methods in the prairies, hunt for fossils in the geology wall and much more.
Vetter was instrumental, along with other junior high students, in working with Warnke and other members of the county conservation staff, to determine the needs and interests for the components of the classroom. Under construction for about three years, the students helped with portions of the outdoor area to include the creation of the butterfly gardens, planting the arboretum, and seeding the prairie area.
Former WHS Superintendent Dr. Susie Meade also attended the ceremony. She was actively involved in the creation of the classroom, and provided the piece of land south of the high school for its location. She also helped to secure funding for the project through the education foundation.
As a student who excelled in academics, Vetter’s memory will live on through the students who for years to come will benefit from the educational resources found at the outdoor location. The classroom embodies two of the things that she valued most: academic learning and spending time outdoors.
Autumn’s Pathway will become a positive force in empowering the community to get up and get outdoors to immerse themselves in nature, stimulate their curiosity, and increase their sensory awareness.