WOODSTOCK – There is a 30-acre span of woodland and wetland west of Woodstock High School, and as of last month, that land has an official name.
At the December Woodstock City Council meeting, the land was recognized by the city as the William C. Donato Conservation Area, honoring the longtime high school teacher who’s worked the last several years making it a place of ecological growth and education.
William Donato, a teacher of environmental science, biology and forensics, said he started intensively fixing up the land about eight years ago, removing invasive species and creating a pathway. Donato added the land has facilitated lessons on invasive versus native species, along with activities as part of his forensics class.
He said he was utterly shocked last month when the item to name the land came up on the meeting’s agenda. His wife got him to the meeting under the pretenses she was receiving an award.
“When I realized, I thought it was pretty remarkable,” Donato said. “You don’t go into this kind of thing for the recognition. You go in because you want to show kids real learning, and the outdoors, but this was really a nice extra.”
Behind the name recognition was a friend and colleague of Donato’s, another teacher, John Headley, and Headley’s political science students. The act mostly was in honor of his friend, Headley said, but it also gave students an opportunity to dabble in local government.
“I wrote the proposal for the city,” Headley said. “My [students] were interested in doing something on the local level. ... One of the kids actually became mayor for the night and another made the proposal at the meeting. They did all the legwork.”
The area, at one point in the early 2000s, was being considered as a site for housing development, Donato said. Woodstock City Councilman Michael Turner recalled residents’ strong opposition to the idea, and efforts to squash it.
“It made no sense there,” said Turner, who was not on the City Council at that time, but did spearhead the movement against the proposal. “It was very dense, and on wet and wooded property, and there was tremendous risk for stormwater retention.”
Donato’s involvement with the land started there, Turner said, adding the teacher suggested the land be fixed up and turned into a conservation/education area.
A trail has been created, as have new ecosystems since non-native plants were removed, Donato said. He said the area has become useful to the school in more ways than one and additional plans for the land are being considered for the future.
“One thing we’re planning is for an interpretive map,” Donato said, “So you can go and read something about a particular area.”