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New Richmond students star in wildflower project

Teacher Travis Helland (left) hands off a container of Dotted Blazing Star seedlings to volunteer student planter Talon Suckora, while teacher Kate Geissler looks on.1 / 3
ustin Hayes (left) and Noah Lund work together to pack the dirt around a seedling being planted at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Star Prairie Seed Nursery.2 / 3
Student Emilee Rogers waits with a Dotted Blazing Star seedling while a hole is being prepared for planting.3 / 3

New Richmond students are helping to save an endangered plant species.

The Dotted Blazing Star wildflower is on the endangered list in Wisconsin and is only found in a few counties along the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

It just so happened that some of those flowers were in the path of the soon-to-be-constructed St. Croix River Crossing near Houlton.

As a result of the endangered designation, Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources officials had to dig up the Dotted Blazing Star plants along the bluffs of the St. Croix and attempt to save them. Last fall, the plants were excavated by volunteers from The Prairie Enthusiasts group, the DOT and DNR.

The 56 plants, which thrive in sandy soil, ended up at the DNR's Baldwin office where seeds were harvested.

According to Missy Sparrow-Lien, a DNR biologist, a number of school districts in the region were contacted and asked if they'd be willing to help out with the effort to save the plants. Among the schools that stepped up to help were the New Richmond Middle School, Baldwin-Woodville High School and Hudson Middle School.

"It was pretty exciting for us that the schools wanted to get involved," she said.

Later in January, the seeds and soil were delivered to the schools. A total of about 5,000 seeds were planted in New Richmond. The seeds, and eventual seedlings, were cared for daily by student members of the Greenhouse Club and teachers through the winter.

On Thursday, May 30, a crew of students and adults headed to the Star Prairie Seed Nursery along County Road H to plant the seedlings that had emerged. The New Richmond batch of plants were diminished due to a ventilation malfunction in the middle school greenhouse, but there were still plenty of Dotted Blazing Star seedlings to put in the ground.

The eight New Richmond Middle School students who helped most with the project were given the chance to plant the seedlings last week. The students helping out were Jack Aysta, Justin Hayes, Jacob Medchill, Noah Lund, Ethan Thompson, Julie Belmont, Emilee Rogers and Talon Suckora. About 25 students in all helped with the project over the past four months.

Middle school science teachers on hand for the day were Travis Helland and Kate Geissler. Teacher Mallory Frederickson also helped with the project throughout the year but was unable to attend the Thursday event.

As the planting began, the students were full of energy for the task. Teams dug holes, added sand, planted the seedlings and then watered each Dotted Blazing Star plant.

Aysta said he was glad he was a part of the project.

"I think it was cool that we got to plant them and raise the plants," he said. "I think doing this is fun. I would totally do it again."

Rogers agreed.

"I think it's really cool to help the world," she said.

Belmont said it was exciting to be part of a project that will help the Dotted Blazing Star live on in Wisconsin.

Helland said the crew planted seedlings for about two and a half hours before heading back to school, adding that everyone had a great time.

"We were very happy we were able to give these kids who worked hard all year in the greenhouse the opportunity to get out to the DNR land and plant what they have worked on for four months," he said. "The kids had a blast and we all learned a great deal from this experience."

Helland said he's spoken with Ryan Brathal, farm manager at DNR seed farm, and other DNR officials about continuing to provide similar opportunities for students.

"We hope to continue to work with the Dotted Blazing Star and various other projects the DNR might have for us," he said.

According to Sparrow-Lien, seedlings from the initial Dotted Blazing Star restoration project were not only planted near Star Prairie, but also at Houlton Elementary School's native prairie plot and Hudson Middle School's prairie. Others were transplanted near the DNR office in Baldwin and the DNR's Hayward Tree Nursery.

She said the Dotted Blazing Star is not endangered across the U.S., just in Wisconsin.

"For our state it's a very limited population," she said. "Just in Polk, St. Croix and parts of Pierce County."

She said the DNR had to find places with sandy soil to transplant the flowers to, giving them the best chance for survival.