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From students to stewards: Fifth-graders tour Prairie Wetland Learning Center

Carrie Schultz (right), a biological science technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, breaks apart a milkweed pod and encourages students to let the breeze carry the seeds away. Milkweeds are crucial for Monarch butterflies. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)1 / 6
Worthington High School FFA members Ryan Newman (right front) and Ben Rogers talk to Worthington Middle School fifth graders about cattails and aquatic life in the wetland at the Prairie Wetland Learning Center Monday morning. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)2 / 6
Ryan Newman holds up some duckweed from the wetland for students to see during a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Monday morning. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)3 / 6
Worthington High School FFA members Kessy Aljets (left) and Aubree Pederson talked about different breeds of ducks and the difference between puddle ducks and diving ducks at their station during the Prairie Wetland Learning Center tours. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)4 / 6
Worthington Middle School students learning about prairie flowers and grasses during their tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Center Monday morning on Worthington's east side. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)5 / 6
A Worthington Middle School fifth-grader excitedly takes binoculars to look for waterfowl in the wetland at the Prairie Wetland Learning Center Monday morning. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)6 / 6

WORTHINGTON — As Carrie Schultz led a group of Worthington Middle School fifth-graders along a mowed path amid shoulder-high prairie grasses and dainty white and purple asters Monday morning, she was doing more than educating the kids about plant diversity and wildlife.

She was planting seeds — both literally and figuratively.

A pinch of a seed head from a coneflower, and the opening of a milkweed pod, had seeds either falling to the ground or floating through the air in hopes that Mother Nature will help bring new life to the Prairie Wetland Learning Center next spring.

At the same time, Schultz was hoping the prairie walk would inspire these students to become stewards of the land.

A biological science technician with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at Windom, Schultz encouraged the students to see, touch and smell as they stopped frequently to inspect specimens such as cup plant, wild bergamot, goldenrod and prairie cordgrass at the nature area, which is located along Read Avenue on Worthington’s east side.

“Minnesota has 30 different kinds of sunflowers,” Schultz said as she pointed out the cup plant.

A short distance later, she pointed out wild bergamot and said it smells like mint.

“The Native Americans would make tea from wild bergamot,” she noted.

At one point, Schultz stopped to pull out a stem of goldenrod, explaining how a wasp stung and then laid an egg on the plant, forming a gall on the stem. Using a pocket knife, she cut into the gall to reveal a worm, noting that it is edible if one was in need of a little protein snack.

Unfortunately, the worm inside this gall was dead and inedible, which squelched some of the dares that had arisen among a few boys in the group.

As they continued on their tour, the students entered the viewing platform where Worthington High School FFA members Kessy Aljets and Aubree Pederson talked about duck species and the difference between puddle ducks and diving ducks before Aljets demonstrated a pair of duck calls.

At another nearby dock, students lined up to learn about duckweed, cattails and the value of wetlands from FFA members Ryan Newman and Ben Rogers.

In addition to the tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Center, the students climbed aboard the Prairie Ecology Bus Center for a program on water quality and macroinvertebrates.

Living in the land of 10,000 lakes, naturalist Jessie Hendrix said it’s important for students to understand water quality, both for recreation and for drinking water. Students looked at a variety of water samples and also peered through jars containing aquatic critters they may find in local lakes, such as leeches and snails.

Tours of the Prairie Wetland Learning Center were also planned on Tuesday and Wednesday, with all fifth-graders from Worthington Middle School, St. Mary’s and Worthington Christian School slated to take part. A Tuesday morning session was also conducted in Adrian for fifth-graders from Adrian and Ellsworth public schools.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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