By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

To people visiting the Howland Hill Outdoor School, the sound of flushing toilets is music to the ears.

On Thursday, the Redwood National Park Service unveiled a new bathroom and kitchen for the site, which is used to educate young children about the forest and its function.

Its really spectacular compared to what we had before. And it will give the school kids a great experience when they come out here, said Andy Ringgold, superintendent of the park.

To reach the camp, school children and their teachers trundle through a wooded trail a mile long. Stepping over banana slugs and fallen branches, they have the task of finding hidden pieces of trash and toys to learn the lesson of what does and doesnt belong in the woods, said Linda Mealue. She has run the school since 1979.

Mealue said she is thrilled with the new log cabin looking bathroom and kitchen. The two new buildings will make the school groups overnight stays more pleasant for all involved.

The six cabins that house the children are tucked back in the second growth forest near Stout Grove. They sit on what was a sheep herders ranch in the 1880s.

Standing there in the woods, its hard to imagine the area being a pasture at any point in history.

It used to be clear-cut all the way across the ridge to make a pasture, Mealue said.

The sheep herders house is still used as a warming lodge and wood from the old barn and sheep sheds were used as siding and paneling for the lodge.

Now that the woods have grown back, Mealue teaches the children the differences between old growth and second growth forests.

We call this dog hair growth, she said, pointing to the thickness of the surrounding woods.

When the trees are all around the same age, theyre still competing for the same space and nutrients, said Mealue. So, when we take the kids over to Stout Grove, they can really see the difference.

During the Fall and Spring, approximately 1,800 children come through the school, some on day trips and some for overnighters.

Some of the students Ive shown through here are now teachers and bring their classes out. So, its really neat, Mealue said.