Waubonsie shoreline work creates 'ribbon of prairie'
The creek behind Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora got a natural leg up Wednesday -- just as it has for the past 17 years.
In a project passed down among years of students in Advanced Placement environmental science, the annual shoreline restoration concludes the process of studying the prairie ecosystem, science teacher Carl Armstrong said.
By the time about 100 students peel off their gardening gloves and stow their serrated planting knives, Armstrong said they will have participated in or observed the entire process of restoring a prairie. They also will have contributed to work their predecessors have engaged in since 2001 to provide a habitat for wildlife, attract pollinators, capture runoff and improve the health of the stream.
"It's really a way to pay it forward and to support the community," Armstrong said. "It's become this generational thing."
This year's process started when students transplanted seedlings harvested from Fox Valley Park District sites into soil plugs to be cultivated, said Monika Kastle, natural areas specialist. The park district oversaw the plants' progress in a greenhouse and brought them back for students to plant Wednesday and Thursday.
Before shoreline work could start, the park district gave students a front-row seat when naturalists conducted a controlled burn to take out brush, small trees and invasive species.
"We've been kind of marching down the shoreline," Kastle said.
Now plants lining some edges of the creek have been growing almost two decades into a "nearly milelong ribbon of prairie," as Armstrong calls it.
Plants students dug into the sloped ground Wednesday, including milkweed, black-eyed Susans, iron weed, pale purple cornflower and various prairie grasses, are chosen to bloom during different seasons for a vibrant natural area that also attracts Monarch butterflies.
"There's always something for pollinators to be eating and feeding off of," Armstrong said.
Jacob Truckenbrod, a senior in Armstrong's AP environmental science class, said he remembers his sister, Hannah, discussing her work restoring a different segment of prairie four years ago. The Waubonsie Creek and Waubonsie Lake area behind the school, encircled with a paved walking path, is a place he spends a lot of time -- be it fishing with the Boy Scouts, biking with his dad, relaxing in a hammock with his girlfriend or studying it in class.
"We understand so much more about how this habitat, how this ecosystem works," Truckenbrod said. "We can help keep something natural alive without having it deteriorate."
Often when environmental science teachers want to give students the knees-in-the-dirt experience of replanting a native area, they have to take a field trip. Having the creek behind the school makes the experience more relatable, Armstrong says, and possibly more educational.
"It's here. It's part of their lives," Armstrong said. "You get them interested in their local ecosystem. After that, they can branch out into other ecosystems as well."