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Volunteers prepare native plants for national forest

February 10, 2012
By JACKIE STARK - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -Volunteers filled the Hiawatha National Forest greenhouse in Marquette one afternoon this week, seeding almost 15,000 plant cells.

A group of volunteers ranging in age and occupation seeded grasses and other native plants, working quietly as they concentrated on each tiny seed, making sure not to waste any.

Northern Michigan University students Sara Turshak and Erica Fraley were among the volunteers. Turshak works for Superior Watershed Partnership, which also sponsors the native plant restoration work done on the Hiawatha. Fraley said she'll be interning with Deb LeBlanc, West Unit plant ecologist for the forest, over the summer.

Article Photos

From front, Northern Michigan University sophomore Erica Fraley and Marquette residents Christie Bleck and Brandon Young place seeds in plant cells at the Hiawatha National Forest greenhouse in Marquette recently. The native grasses and other plants will be planted in the forest this spring. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)

Turshak said she'd like to work with students after she graduates, helping them understand the importance of native plants, while Fraley said she's keeping her options open and saw the volunteer day as an opportunity to help out with an interesting project.

"Ideally, it would be conservation," Turshak said of a future career path as she carefully placed a single seed in each cell.

Marquette resident Christie Bleck was also on hand Tuesday afternoon. Bleck, a freelance writer who recently moved to the area from Lansing, said she's never worked on this native plant restoration before, though she has volunteered with other native plant projects.

"I like growing native plants," Bleck said. "It's a way to make the local habitat into what It was intended to be naturally."

The plants grown in the greenhouse are native to the national forest and their seeds come solely from within its borders. They will be used to restore parts of the forest to their natural state.

Brandon Young of Marquette found himself seeding hundreds of cells after receiving an email from his friend Sue Rabitaille, senior volunteer for the greenhouse.

"I'm also hoping to get a good reference," he joked.

LeBlanc said plants that need the most time to germinate would be seeded that day and the greenhouse, normally home to three metal shelves that run from end to end, would be overrun with trays of freshly seeded cells by day's end.

Special wooden shelves are constructed each year in the greenhouse to provide the plants with the necessary space, light and water to grow.

"There'll be a lot of green once they germinate," Le Blanc said. "It'll smell really great."

While volunteers are encouraged to stop by the greenhouse at 1030 Wright St. outside of specific volunteer days, the next group volunteer project is set for Feb. 18.

For more information on this and other volunteer events, contact Le Blanc at or Rabitaille at

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



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