What began at Michigan State University as the research and prevention of another invasive species, has sprawled into an opportunity for students to become environmental stewards and active community members.
Last week, over seventy-five students and a handful of teachers led by Mrs. Graham made their way to Hager Park and spent the after-school hours scouring the brush and wooded trails for Garlic Mustard: an invasive weed threatening to overtake native Michigan plants and flowers.
First brought to “the New World” by Europeans to season their food, Garlic Mustard is edible, but it also monopolizes the resources other plants need to grow and flourish. It additionally releases a toxin into the soil that is harmful to other nearby species. Michigan’s lovely Trillium is one example of a flower suffering at the hands of this unwelcome forest neighbor.
Jenison Schools were first made aware of the opportunity to help control this species when Melanie Manion, an Ottawa County Parks staffer, contacted Mrs. White at our high school and suggested Hager Park as a place to make a difference. The benefits of proximity and community were not lost; Mrs. White’s ecology class conducted field work as part of an invasive species project this past fall.
Eager to offer junior high students the opportunity to apply their biology lessons to real-life environmental situations, Mrs. Graham collaborated with Mrs. White to form what is now a 3-year partnership between Ottawa County Parks and JPS.
“We’ve committed to limit invasives as much as possible,” Mrs. Graham explained. A difficult task, to be sure, considering that each plant holds an estimated 3,000 seeds!Students are able to walk to Hager after school, bags in tow and hands ready to pull by the root. One students shared that she “…used to go to Hager Park a lot and didn’t want to see it overrun.” Others, including Hannah and Carol in the above photo, used the afternoon to take pictures for the Photography Club and hone their skills in a wooded setting with shadows and light.
Regardless of why they came, everyone pitched in and the group left with 23 huge bags filled with the plant!
That means that Hager Park is inching closer to the natural state we love and want to preserve.
It means that our students are applying classwork to the work they do with their hands; it means they’re making our planet their laboratory.
And that, friends, is science at its best.
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Thank you to all the teachers involved in making this partnership a success, and to Mrs. Hunt, of the JJHS Photography Club, for the photos. Additionally, kudos to the group from Pinewood Elementary who successfully pulled one bag of Garlic Mustard from the park!