North Star Academy students help native plant restoration

MARQUETTE – Students enrolled in North Star Academy’s Community Environmental Education Program got their hands dirty Tuesday learning about native plants and the important role they play in the environment.

The group of eighth-graders spent the day at the Hiawatha National Forest greenhouse, located along Wright Street in Marquette, helping fill more than 20,000 cells with specially mixed soil in preparation for seeding, which will take place later this month.

Deb Le Blanc, West Unit plant ecologist for the Hiawatha National Forest, which hosted the event, said having students help with native plant restoration efforts was a great opportunity to promote stewardship among young people.

“We’re doing this to benefit our schools and communities,” she said. “It’s great for them to learn. It’s neat to learn about natives …

“When they see stuff out in the wild, they don’t really realize, maybe, it’s wild, but this gives them a chance to have hands-on experience.”

For many of the students, Tuesday’s project was a chance to come full circle with a something that began in October. A number of them had, as a part of the CEEP, traveled out to Stonington Peninsula to plant black-eyed susans, a plant necessary for the monarch butterfly’s famously long migration down to Mexico.

“They were asking, ‘Well, how’d you grow those plugs?’ So now, they’re getting to participate with the soil and then, they’re coming back on the 21st to seed the cells they just filled with soil,” Le Blanc said. “We hope to get them back again to give them an opportunity to go full circle.”

Tuesday, the students cleaned hand-picked little blue stem and blazing star seeds, which will later be planted, then used in restoration projects across the national forest.

For CEEP Instructor Michele Talsma, taking the students to the HNF green house was a great educational opportunity.

“We never had this opportunity when I was a student,” Talsma said. “For the kids to be able to apply what they learned in the classroom and go out for a real field experience is just the connection they need to make it one of those moments in education that’s going to stick with them for a long time. They’re still talking about the Stonington Peninsula.”

Not only were the students learning about native plants, they were also learning how to run a hoophouse. North Star Academy has its own hoophouse, which students have been using to grow a wide variety of plants.

“It’s a really good experience for them to visit other people’s hoophouses to see what their procedures are,” Talsma said. “So, what we learn here, we’re going to take and apply to our hoophouse as well.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.