MARQUETTE - The 14th annual Life of Lake Superior Program kicks off Thursday, starting a month-long effort that will teach kids about the impact of Lake Superior on science, history, arts, culture and the local economy.
Run by the Alger County Michigan State University Extension, the program is open to all kids, not just those from Alger County, age 9 to 14. A parent or grandparent is welcome to attend as well.
This year the program will have a central theme of invasive species, with lessons on different types of invasive and their impact on the local environment and economy.
Michigan Sea Grant educator Ron Kinnunen shows a group of students participating in 2013’s Life of Lake Superior Program microscopic creatures that live in Lake Superior. The group last year spent a day cruising the Marquette shoreline aboard the Isle Royale Queen III. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Marquette Fisheries Research Station technician Karen Sanford explains basic fish anatomy to a group of students during the 2013 program. This year, kids participating in the program will focus on invasive species and how they impact the Great Lakes. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"We have been doing something about invasive species throughout every year of the program but it's been here and there, aquatic invasive, plant invasive ... we've never tied it together," said Joan Vinette, an extension educator who helps organize the program. "So this year, by picking that as a central theme then we carry through into special activities each week that are related to invasive species."
Each day will also include a snack and lunch, with a presentation by "Captain Nutrition" on how to eat healthy.
The program begins Thursday with a "Day on the Farm." Participants will learn abut food production and sustainable agriculture practices as well as entrepreneurial opportunities in farming. Kids will visit the MSU Research and Extension Farm Center in Chatham then take a short drive down the road to Rock River Farms, where they'll get a firsthand look of a commercial organic farming operation.
And though it's too late to register for Thursday's activities, there are still three more events happening the rest of the month that are open and available to the public. All events are free.
The next day-long event takes place July 17, with a tour of the Garden Peninsula, including the wind farm there. The group will also take part in a Michigan Sea Grant-led tour of a commercial fish processing plant and get a taste of the area's history with a visit to Fayette State Park that will include guided tours led by Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff.
Vinette said one of the goals of the Life of Lake Superior Program is to introduce kids to professionals whose careers depend on natural resources and the outdoors, which is why many different types of careers are represented at each event.
"There are so many career fields for people in natural resources that are out there, but someone might not know about them, and it might not be something taught in schools," Vinette said.
July 24 will see the program's annual trip to Grand Island, when kids get the chance to plant thousands of milkweed plugs to help restore the natural habitat monarch butterflies need for their famously long migration.
"It's been gratifying for the kids to go back, those that have come multiple years, because by the time we get there mid-month the field is just in beautiful bloom and they're able to see the effort of some of the planting in past years," Vinette said.
Students will also plant wildflowers at Farm Field and learn about cultural traditions, economics and recreation potential of the island, with a whitefish cookout concluding the day at Murray Bay.
The program ends July 31 with a trip out to one of Alger County's biggest attractions - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There, kids will get to meet lakeshore rangers and interpreters who will demonstrate how their work in the park also benefits the park's gateway communities.
And, as always, the program will end with its annual Family Fish Boil, a celebration of the month's events.
For more information on Life of Lake Superior or to register for the July 17, July 24 or July 31 events, contact Vinette at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-2530.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.