Who knew pulling weeds could be so much fun?
A group of fifth-graders from Barrington participated in a hands-on project last week in order to help Citizens for Conservation restore some of the surrounding prairies to their natural habitat.
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Their target: pulling out the invasive garlic mustard weed, whose seeds are rapidly spreading through Northeastern Illinois woodlands and prairies, displacing native flowers.
"During this time of year, our volunteers are actively working to remove this nasty plant," says Pat Winkelman, youth education chairman for the group.
The three classrooms divided into two groups to attack their prey: half went to Baker's Lake, a nature preserve along Northwest Highway that includes the lake itself and a sanctuary for endangered herons and other birds and wildlife.
Flint Creek Savanna, the largest preserve owned by Citizens for Conservation, drew the other half. Its savannas, wetlands and prairies contain more than 200 species of grasses, sedges and wildflowers.
Thanks to the CFC's active restoration efforts since 1988, they describe its prairies as an "ever-changing palette of colors," which is home to at least three species of endangered birds and colorful varieties of butterflies.
But there was little time to do any bird or butterfly watching on this trip. Children and their adult chaperones rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
In order to remove the dreaded garlic mustard plants, they had to grab the plants at their roots and pull them upward from the soil. At Baker's Lake, Winkelman says, they removed so many plants, that they made large piles of them for future controlled burning projects.
Students working the south end of Flint Creek Savanna found some surprising discoveries during the day: small bones that turned out to be pieces of vertebrae and a femur from a small mammal, along with two raccoon skulls.
They found the bones disbursed over two acres of land in the savanna. The adult volunteers working with them brought them back to their classrooms for further examination.
Paul Kirk, principal at Roslyn Road School in Barrington, said the outdoor project was the first in a heightened effort by school officials and PTO members in bringing students out into the community to serve others.
"Service learning is something that I hope we can really put a focus on in the coming years," Kirk said. "The kids were happy to help, they understood the purpose and they felt like they were making a difference to the environment."
CFC volunteers enjoyed the outing as well, they said. Part of their mission is reaching out to young people to raise their consciousness about saving the environment.
"By involving children in our restoration endeavors and by providing youth education programs," Winkelman said, "we are planting the seed for future generations to care for our prairies."
Both children and adults took a well-deserved break after their morning of working on the land to enjoy slushies provided by Lake Zurich Sonic.