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Trail Hike (JHARVNC)

TopicLaboratory and Hands-on Activities - Physical Activity
Outdoor Skills - Hiking
An easy walk on the nature center property will highlight different habitat areas.  The program options include Beaver Creek, Wells Lake, Field and Forests, Oak Savannah, North Boundary and Upland trails.

Recommended SettingOne of the nature center trails
LocationJanet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith

Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993

Duration30-60 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants20-50
  • Get participants outside to experience the natural areas in person
  • Experience first-hand the different habitat areas
  • Gain awareness of the variety of habitats within a relatively small acreage
  • Learn necessities of life in each habitat area


Key Terms*
Native versus invasive species
Oak savannah
Appropriate attire for walking outside in expected weather

Most popular trails for groups: 

Oak Savannah Trail
An oak savannah is a community of scattered, spread-out oak trees above a layer of prairie grasses and forbs. The savannah is a transition ecosystem between the tallgrass prairie and woodland environments, so it is an important habitat for many woodland and prairie animals, plant and insect species. Fire plays a major role in maintaining the ecosystem. Discuss the importance of this type of environment, habitat areas, animals and plants (native and invasive).

  • Begin at trail head near Wells Lake which starts off as Beaver Creek Trail
  • Walk through the shaded pine plantation
  • Meander up a small ridge
  • Cross through the oak savannah
  • Wrap up back at Wells Lake  

Field and Forest Trail

The trail features open fields, left over from previous days when a part of this area was farmland. This contrasts with the young oak hickory forest that contains typically slow-growing species adapted for the dryer lands. The theme of this hike is to look at the habitats of the Field and Forest Trail and the changes within its diverse regions.

  • Begin at trailhead in parking lot
  • Walk through remnants of farm fields and into young oak hickory forests
  • Walk along the edge of a wetland area
  • Return to the trailhead at Wells Lake  

Wells Lake Trail

A lake, open fields, dense brushy growth, forest, shallow pond and wetland make up the trail. What animals live in each area?  How do they find food, water and shelter in each area? This area was also once part of Fort Chaffee.

  • Begin at trailhead at Wells Lake (all paved/boardwalks for wheelchair access)
  • See fishing pier on the south side, smaller fishing platforms on the north and west sides
  • Note that spillway shows lake is man-made
  • View small shallow pond
  • See wetland/vernal pond
  • Notice forest succession
  • Take bridge back to trailhead

Beaver Creek Trail
This is the shortest trail with the easiest access and is often the choice for the youngest participants. Hikers will see early succession forest growth and then skirt the edge of a braided stream. Look for signs of beaver and wetland plants. Pass through an older section of forest (notice the rattan vines) and compare to the earlier succession growth. These different areas of plant growth and moisture content provide different habitats to many animals.

  • Begin at main trailhead near Wells Lake (all paved/boardwalks for wheelchair access)
  • Cross the bridge and turn left
  • See wetland to the left and forest to the right
  • Pass by seating area and small bridge
  • Walk through forest
  • Return to trailhead


  1. Assemble participants at trailhead area. Give safety instructions and then introduce hike and what participants are to be looking for. Assign someone to bring up the rear.
  2. Take participants on the hike, stopping at various points of interest to discuss types of animals living in an area, necessities of life found there, differences in habitat areas, native versus invasive species.
  3. Note various sights along the trail such as wildflowers, animal tracks, beaver dam, etc. 
  4. Wrap up at the end of the trail, reviewing types of habitat areas, necessities  
  • Groups may carry field guides or keys and identify specimens along the trail.
  • Play nature bingo and cross off things they see and/or hear as they go along the trail.
  • At some point along the trail, everyone should stop and stay still with eyes closed, seated if possible. Listen to every sound for several minutes. Try to identify them and share with the group.
  • Sensory items are set up ahead of time for participants to spy, smell and feel.
  • How have people changed the landscape in the past 100 years? The past 1,000 years (by Native Americans)? How have man’s landscape changes and uses modified the flora and fauna both negatively and positively?
  • If native and invasive species of plants were discussed, how have invasive species affected the nature center property?  Are there any invasive plants in natural areas around the participants’ school or home?
  • Review different habitats seen on the hike back at school.  Draw a picture of the favorite one along with animals in that area. 

Biology – science of living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution and distribution; includes botany and zoology and all their subdivisions


Ecosystem – plants and animals interacting with each other and their physical environment


Field – A broad, level, open expanse of land


Food – material made of protein, carbohydrate and fat which an organism assimilates to produce energy, repair tissue, stimulate growth and maintain life


Forest – an ecosystem or group of ecosystems dominated by a dense growth of trees and woody vegetation


Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs


Invasive species – non-native organisms released into a region with potential to disrupt ecosystems and displace native species


Lake – a large inland body of fresh or salt water


Native species – one that normally lives in a particular ecosystem


Oak savannah – a plant community with scattered “open-grown” oaks where dappled sun and shade on the ground permits a wide diversity of grasses and flowering plants to grow


Shelter (wildlife) – protection, cover, refuge or safety


Water – clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid; H2O, essential for most plant and animal life and the most widely used of all solvents


Wetland – lowland area, such as a marsh or swamp that is saturated with moisture, especially when regarded as a wildlife natural habitat