Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
The National Park Nursery program at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MISS) started as a pipe dream two years ago between the volunteer coordinator and a teacher. Her students had done habitat restoration work with MISS before, and they saw the need for native plants to replace the invasive species our volunteers do so well at removing. They dreamed of a solution that utilized a dusty old greenhouse at Open World Learning school to grow native plants and get the students involved with stewardship at their local National Park. Cue the new Centennial Volunteer Ambassadors in summer 2015, and suddenly the pipe dream could turn into a reality. Click here to read more about the process to start-up the National Park Nursery and here for more about the first trip to Open World Learning.
With the first school visit under my belt, we were a bit more prepared to visit our second school, Great River School. It’s different, though, because they weren’t part of the years of dreaming up an elaborate nursery program – they’re the real deal, and they want a great program for their kids to learn and have fun with. So, I brought out the big guns and brought along Ranger Kathy (something about the uniform demands attention that the SCA uniform just doesn’t have…) and our brand new intern. We presented to two occupation classes, animal husbandry and organic farming, in the 7th and 8th grades. They listened attentively and were engaged in our stories of our career path, the National Park Service Centennial, and the prairies in their backyard.
The next part of our presentation was the activity! We brought along seeds that were collected in the fall to be cleaned and seeds to be scarified with sandpaper. Each table had a bag of seeds to work on, and we circulated through to explain why we were doing the things we were doing. They had a good time thinking about being the “digestive system” of an animal, breaking down the seed coat of purple prairie clover – with more than one typical 8th grade boy question of ‘why can’t I just eat it and we do it that way..?’ ha. ha. It was a messy and noisy process, or so we thought at first, until it got even worse when we attempted to clean milkweed seeds. The result? Hundreds of milkweed tufts flying around the lunchroom with 30 middle schoolers egging it on. It may have made a mess, but hey, we did have a valuable life lesson on wind dispersal!!
Stay tuned until next week where we get really get to make a mess as we plant seeds.