At the Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin, a group of school children from nearby South Shore Elementary volunteered their time to perform maintenance, learn about their environment, and improve the local habitat – all in a single day’s work.
The hatchery has been in growth since the 1970s as staff continues to improve its facilities and landscape. Most recently, a new hiking trail was unveiled. The three-mile Simpson Trail system, completed in 2012, can today be accessed year-round. Visitors can begin their exploration on either of two loops accessible from the hatchery parking lot, complete with trailheads. The trails can be used for just about anything done on foot including hunting, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and bird watching.
Unfortunately, these trails can be quite a challenge to maintain in the winter months. Located in an open area of Wisconsin, the Iron River Hatchery faces snow that blows and drifts over the path, making it nearly impossible for visitors to follow trailheads and find their way.
For the second year in a row, South Shore Elementary sent students to the hatchery in late May in direct address to the problem. The second grade class spent the morning assisting hatchery staff in planting trees along the trailheads located at the parking lot.
About 50 spruce trees were planted in holes prepared by hatchery staff. They and the students hope that in a few years, the trees will provide enough of a buffer to protect the trail from the influx of snow coverage, allowing the trail to be used all year long. These trees also act as a carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing more visual appeal surrounding the parking lot.
As a bonus, the children also got to pot their own trees and take them home as souvenirs. During the day, the students
took a break from planting to take a hiking tour of the grounds. On their journey, students gained awareness of the functions of the hatchery and viewed a portion of the 1.5 million lake trout and coaster brook trout that are raised there annually.
The students came, planted and learned, all while helping the hatchery. The school and hatchery hope to continue the effort as an annual event to improve the trail system and provide an outdoor learning opportunity for local students.