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WMS students learn about prairies, wetlands and habitat at Prairie Wetland Learning Area

WORTHINGTON -- Moments after walking down the bridge from the Prairie Wetland Learning Area's observation deck, a Worthington Middle School student in Hollie Hibma's fifth-grade class spotted a stick bug trying to camouflage itself on a blade of ...

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Worthington Middle School fifth graders Danya Ramos-Lopez (left) and Nereida Soto examine macroinvertebrates inside the Prairie Ecology Bus Center Monday morning as part of a visit to the Prairie Wetland Learning Area. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Moments after walking down the bridge from the Prairie Wetland Learning Area’s observation deck, a Worthington Middle School student in Hollie Hibma’s fifth-grade class spotted a stick bug trying to camouflage itself on a blade of grass.

The inquisitive youth pulled the stem from the ground and called on his teacher and classmates to come and see the discovery.

As the students oohed and aahed over the bug with its big legs and long antennae, Stephanie McLain, district conservationist with the Nobles County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and tour guide for the class trip, had the perfect opportunity to talk about all of the important critters -- from insects to rodents to waterfowl -- that exist in wetlands.

The local NRCS office, in conjunction with Prairie Ecology Bus Center, is leading the outdoor classroom program through Wednesday for students across Nobles County. Today, students at Adrian and Ellsworth will visit the Adrian Environmental Learning Area, and in the afternoon, St. Mary’s and Worthington Middle School classes will be at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area on Worthington’s east side. The final group of Worthington Middle School students will take a field trip to the Prairie Wetland Learning Area on Wednesday.

Each class takes part in a two-part program -- getting a tour of the wetland area and then learning about water quality during a program presented by staff from Prairie Ecology Bus Center.

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“As we walk around the learning area, we talk about prairie, wetlands, habitat and impactful applications of water quality and the benefits of having habitat,” McLain said. “What we really want kids to think about is what the historical landscape looked like around here and try to get them used to thinking about … how this could be incorporated into our landscape.”

As she led one of the groups of fifth-graders through the prairie wetland area, McLain pointed out flowers like the Maximillian’s sunflower and the New England Aster, as well as grasses including big bluestem and prairie cordgrass (also known as cutgrass for its sharp blades).

The students learned about pollination and used binoculars at the observation tower to look for ducks on the spanning wetland below them.

“We want the kids to get outside and learn about the natural environment in this area,” said Dan Livdahl, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District administrator and one of the volunteers helping with the tours.

The Prairie Wetland Learning Area was once an agricultural field. It was restored to a native prairie and wetland approximately 20 years ago.

“Most of our natural wetlands have been drained, so we can talk about the things that live in wetlands, how they’re used by waterfowl, the food chains there -- the vegetation, insects and birds work together to create a habitat,” Livdahl said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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