Fifth-graders from Hillcrest School slogged through mud Friday to plant the seeds of a new wetland.
Colleen McDonald, Roseann Mabitazan and 60 other students spent the morning spreading seed from dozens of native species across a 4-acre wetland reclamation site north of Lawrence. The land, bordered by a creek and woodland, is administered by Kansas Biological Survey and owned by Kansas University Endowment Association.
"I like to be out in nature, seeing and finding things," McDonald said. "It's not like a school with walls."
On a day marked by brief showers, children split into small groups, led by Biological Survey staff or KU graduate students. They wandered through the field tossing seeds of Blue Heart, False Indigo, Milkweed, Purple Cone Flower, Louisiana Lettuce and about 80 other plants.
It reminded Mabitazan of life in the Philippines, where she used to live.
"I've done this before, but it was for chores," she said.
Viewed more as recess than work, students and volunteers shared in the revitalization of this slice of the 1,800-acre KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves, which at one time was part of former Kansas Gov. Charles Robinson's farm known as Oak Ridge. The original wetland was drained and devoted to crop production until 1948.
Scott Campbell, research assistant at the Kansas Biological Survey, said bulldozers were brought in two years ago to re-establish the field's natural drainage pattern.
He said the seeding carried out by Hillcrest students and volunteers would expand habitat for plants and animals, improve natural filtering of surface water and provide a buffer against flooding.
"This will help introduce kids to the function and value of ecosystems," Campbell said.
The seeding project was supported by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Robinson said a long-term goal was to expand public access to selected areas of the preserve.
"We want people to have a good time," he said. "We also want to help people appreciate that it's a lot harder to restore a wetlands or prairie than it is to destroy."