Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Photos: Lake Linden-Hubbell students learn stewardship, birding, more near Torch Lake

By Michele Bourdieu

Nick Squires, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School science teacher, explains to students how to plant Red osier plants along the shore of Torch Lake at the Lake Linden Sands, site of the Superfund stamp sand remediation. The student project, on May 15, was sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

LAKE LINDEN -- Students from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School biology and English classes spent an afternoon of hands-on science activities, combined with a game of disc golf and poetry writing, on May 15, 2015, at the Lake Linden Sands Superfund site, where vegetation now covers stamp sand -- a waste product left by the copper industry.

The students were divided into three groups, each one having an opportunity to do all three activities: planting Red osier plants along the Torch Lake shoreline and learning the benefits of planting native plants in a disturbed area, birdwatching and setting up bird nesting boxes, and playing a game of disc golf combined with a poetry writing exercise.

Planting Red osier near Torch Lake shoreline ...

Lake Linden-Hubbell High School biology students listen as their science teacher, Nick Squires, demonstrates how to plant Red osier dogwoods in the remediated Lake Linden Sands during a Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative project on May 15, 2015. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

The planting activity is only one part of the project, according to Nick Squires, science teacher, who said both biology and chemistry students are involved in the native plant study. In the fall, students did monitoring for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the Superfund site.

"We do some of the analysis in class," Squires said.

For example, the students have measured plant biomass, plant diversity (the presence of different species), root depth, and air temperatures compared to temperatures right on the ground.

"The chemistry class gets involved by doing the soil analysis," he added.

Students, from left, Bailey Haller, Kirsten Codere and Alexa Destrampe, dig holes for planting Red osier along the shore.*

Both boys and girls used shovels to dig holes for the plants, learning they had to find a spot with fewer rocks in the soil.

"We've never planted these here before, but we did a field analysis here," said Alexa Destrampe. "We took soil samples and tested biomass and root depth in the fall."

Bailey Haller had no trouble digging his hole and planting the Red rosier bush.

"This is the third time I've done this," he said.

Bailey Haller finishes planting his Red rosier bush.

These students finished their planting with no difficulty. Pictured here are, from left, Brendan Sullivan, William Hornat, Gavin Jeffery, Bradley Moilanen and Shane Poisson.

Squires said the EPA, under the Superfund, planted other types of vegetation to cover the stamp sand. The purpose of the student project is to extend that vegetation with the native Red rosier plants to help prevent erosion along the shore and add species variety.

Red osier are planted near the shore to help prevent erosion.

Birding and more ...

The second science activity of the day was an opportunity to observe bird species in the area and set up bird nest boxes for them. Dana Richter, Copper Country Audubon Club president, was on hand to help the students.

Digging the hold for the bird box presents a challenge. It has to be 18 inches to 2 feet deep. Here Emma Sarazin tries digging with the auger. Also pictured in her group are, from left, Elijah Norman, Brendan Middleton and Madison Butkonen.

Students finish digging a hole and setting up a nest box for birds near the holding ponds of the Lake Linden sewage treatment system. At right, Dana Richter, Copper Country Audubon Club president, supervises. Richter said the boxes would probably be used by migrant tree swallows or possibly bluebirds, although there are fewer bluebirds than swallows in the area.

Pictured here with the bird nesting box they installed are, from left, Jordan Craig, Jeff Keranen and Owen Mattila. Jeff is the son of Amy Keranen, Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Remediation and Redevelopment Division project manager for the Abandoned Mining Wastes (including PCBs) project at Torch Lake.

Owen Mattila said it was fun to learn about the native plants and the birds.

"We learned some new types of birds and we dug the bird houses for the tree swallows," Mattila said. "Putting the bird house in -- that was the most fun."

Swallows fly around or land on one of the nest boxes set up by the students. According to Dana Richter, one pair of birds will use one box for nesting.

Students look through binoculars to observe various species of birds. Some of the students had never used binoculars or done any birding previously. Binoculars are lent to the students by Joan Chadde of the Western U.P. Center for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education.

Birds line the fence at the Lake Linden holding ponds. Dana Richter called students' attention to an uncommon duck near the ponds -- a Northern Shoveler. They also observed a Bonaparte's Gull and some Ring-Billed Gulls.

"It's a wonderful place for birding," Richter said.

Disc golf and poetry ...

The third activity of the day was a game of disc golf. At each hole of the course, students were asked on a handout to pause and answer a question, describing in detail something they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, etc. The assignment was to put these elements together at the end of the course and create a nature poem. Heather French, Lake Linden-Hubbell English teacher, supervised the activity.

This group of students paused for a photo during their game of disc golf. Pictured, from left, are Brent Basto, Lincoln Klein, Steven Suhonen, Kirk Strietes and Billy Brinkman.

At the end of the two-hour afternoon session, Nick Squires called for volunteers from the disc golf group and others to help plant 50 more Red osiers in a nearby wetland.

Students finish the afternoon project by planting -- in record time -- 50 more Red osiers in a wetland near the shore.

"This is perfect weather for planting (cloudy with moist soil)," Squires said.

Beth Squires, Nick's wife, and their son, Rowan, now age 3, enjoyed the outing with the students. "He helped Daddy plant trees," said Beth, who has also been a science teacher.

Nick Squires said students study other areas in the Torch Lake watershed and learn about the impacts of mining waste on the environment. Eighth graders do a tour of the Traprock River watershed and monitor the dissolved oxygen, pH, dissolved copper, temperature and macro-invertebrate count.

"We've had pretty good success," he noted. "Scales Creek is the only one where we can detect the slightest bit of copper."

*Correction: We originally made an error in identifying the students in this photo and in attributing the quote that follows it. Thanks to Nick Squires for the correction.

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