Students and staff from Escuela Verde, a public charter school in Milwaukee, visited Conserve School last week to participate in a Conservation Camp. A multi-day trip, the visiting group worked with Conserve School and the Ottawa National Forest staff to learn about and remove non-native species to this area. With the Sylvania Wilderness Area as our neighbor, Conserve School partners with the Ottawa National Forest on projects of conservation and stewardship. With the Escuela Verde group, we practiced stewardship by considering land management practices and ecological impacts of non-native plants and animals.
After their arrival to Conserve School, the nine students heard from Ian Shackleford, a botanist with the Ottawa National Forest, about the history of the Sylvania Wilderness Area. The following day the conservation crew met Shackleford at the Sylvania Wilderness Area, and focused on searching for and removing European Swamp (Marsh) Thistle, Cirsium palustre. The crew became familiar with the tall spiny stalk of the thistle as well as the small clusters of flowers that were about to bloom. With thick leather gloves on their hands and carrying shovels, students were prepared for a full day’s work. Students used hands and clippers to remove the buds then shovels came in use when removing the roots of the plant. After walking six miles along roads, over ditches, and on campsites in search of the European Swamp Thistle, conservation work was done for the day.
When we returned to Conserve School, the Escuela Verde students and staff learned about aquatic invasive species from guest speakers Cathy Higley and Becca Klemme. They talked about the importance of preventing the spread of species such as the zebra mussel, rusty crayfish, and Eurasian watermilfoil. While our conservation efforts were focused on terrestrial species, it was interesting to see how aquatic ecosystems are impacted by non-native species. This provided perspective for the following day when we paddled canoes on a lake.
The following morning, National Canoe Day, Escuela Verde students and staff practiced portaging and paddling canoes. Each person practiced lifting and feeling the weight rest on their shoulders as they walked with the canoe. In the afternoon with a shining sun, the group drove to the west side of the Sylvania Wilderness Area and began the portage to Whitefish Lake. An incredible amount of teamwork and communication occurred when the group carried the heavy canoes and maneuvered over rooted trails to get to the water. Once canoes were on the lake, there was a light breeze that kept the mosquitoes away. The group enjoyed their paddle along the shore of the lake while continuing their search for European Swamp Thistle. After another full day, the crew returned to Conserve School and spent their final evening having a bonfire with s’ mores.
During their visit, Escuela Verde students stated on multiple occasions, “The only bad thing about this place (Conserve School) is the mosquitoes!” Even with mosquitoes and a long portage that left our bodies tired and sore, the Escuela Verde team stayed positive and helpful throughout their visit. We appreciated the group’s willingness this week to try new things such as removing non-native species, paddling and portaging.
When relieved from conservation efforts this week our visitors enjoyed Lowenwood by biking, playing games at the Lowenwood Recreation Center (LRC), and rising early for a morning paddle on Big Donahue Lake.
Conserve School looks forward to hosting Escuela Verde students and staff in the future!