MARQUETTE - Pouring rain Wednesday soaked a large group of Bothwell Middle School sixth graders hard at work along the bike path that runs between Fourth and Fifth streets, but the weather didn't deter them.
"I like rain, it's fun," said 11-year-old Leah Anderson, as she patted soil around the base of the plant she had just put into the ground.
The nine species of wildflowers and four varieties of grass the group planted along the Trestle Corridor, following the old track of the railroad bed, are all native species, part of a project sponsored by the Marquette County Conservation District, Hiawatha National Forest, Superior Watershed Partnership and city of Marquette.
Sixth graders from Bothwell Middle School learned about invasive species and the benefits of replanting with native flowers and grasses. Here, despite the rain, Kate Skendzel and Leah Anderson, both 11, prepare to put their dormant plants in the ground to be ready to bloom next fall. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"It's a perfect time to plant them so that by next fall, they will be adapted to the soil," said MCCD administrator Renee Leow. "They're native plants. The seeds came from this area."
Leow said all the new plants bloom in the fall and are now dormant in preparation for winter.
For the kids, the project includes an educational component, in which they learn about invasive species and their effect on the Upper Peninsula, and an activity component - the actual planting.
"We learned about it before we came here," Kate Skendzel, 11, said.
Today, seventh graders were scheduled to work on their portion of the project, cleaning up around the middle school grounds and planting wild rice seeds in the wetlands area near the school.
"We hope to create a little wildlife habitat there," Leow said.
Among the native species planted Wednesday were Canadian wild rye grass, sweetgrass, black-eyed Susans and bee balm.
"We need to teach them (the kids) now and have them become good stewards of the environment," Leow said.
The Trestle Corridor was the site of railroad tracks from the 1800s until only a few years ago. Replanting the area using native species has more benefit than just serving as a science lesson for middle school students.
Native plant species are best suited to the climate, soil and weather of the U.P. Once the plants are established, little extra watering is required to keep them alive and healthy, and fertilizers and pesticides are unnecessary.
An established area of native plants limits the ability of invasive species to take over that area and the root systems of native plants keeps soil from eroding. Native plants also provide habitat and a food source for the native animal populations.
The effect of invasive species can be expensive, Leow said.
"It costs us a lot of money to remove them," she said. Invasive species can also impact recreational opportunities as well, blocking access to trails, and taking over areas designated for crops.
While the Trestle Corridor planting was completed by Bothwell sixth graders, the soil was prepared earlier this summer by a group of youth employees from Michigan Works.