Planting pollinators

Sandy Knoll students help with conservation project

HARVEY — Sean Buckmaster, a third-grader at Sandy Knoll Elementary School in Marquette, took charge of his little plot of land Friday along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.

“I need some more dirt here,” Sean said.

The boy was one of many Sandy Knoll third-grade students who took part in a special conservation project by the IOHT near the Michigan Department of Transportation Welcome Center along U.S. 41.

Through previous conservation projects, the site is flourishing with native Michigan wildflowers like common milkweed — a main monarch butterfly pollinator species — and others like black-eyed susan.

A few more can’t hurt.

Helping lead the event was Abbie Debiak, a biologist with the Superior Watershed Partnership and Upper Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative program coordinator. The project was part of the GLSI as well as the SWP’s Great Lakes Conservation Corps.

The students Friday planted native plants and seeds of these species: black-eyed susan, blazingstar, lance-leaved coreopsis and poverty oats. They also were shown photographs of the plants.

No milkweed was to be planted that day, but that species already is established along this part of the IOHT.

“We have it all mixed up for the students, and they’re going laying that out,” Debiak said of the special seed mix. “We also have some pollinator plugs.”

For the non-botanist, plugs are plants growing in separate tray cells. For this projects, the plugs came from the Borealis Seed Co., based in Marquette Township.

Plots were established for the youngsters every 100 feet or so, with the GLCC members overseeing groups of kids entrusted to planting each area.

Debiak said the plan is to extend the plots, making them bigger as crews have more opportunities to add to them.

The project also had an educational component for the third-graders.

“Their teachers are doing a lot to teach them all about stewardship and why it’s important to take care of our lake and how everything kind of influences, like, the concept of a watershed, why it’s important to take care of the land and take care of the water,” Debiak said. “So, this is just a good hands-on example. They can get their hands dirty.”

Dirty was fine by the kids.

“We know kids don’t care about that,” said third-grade teacher Nancy Usitalo.

They were given gloves before the start of the project, which included a talk by Debiak on things like the non-native spotted knapweed.

The GLCC had a hand in eliminating a lot of that species in the area.

“These guys have been working all summer to try to get rid of it along this bike path here,” Debiak said. “It’s a really pretty flower, but it takes over and it kills all the native plants.”

The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative was launched in 2007 to develop knowledgeable and active stewards of the Great Lakes through hands-on learning in the community.

Since 2000, GLCC crews have worked in every Upper Peninsula county to implement conservation and restoration projects within the watersheds of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

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Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is