Positively potent party of educators and conservationists

Art, education, and community made a comeback at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center this weekend. It was “Return to Prairie Days” (a Fergus Falls Signature Event, proclaims the town’s event calendar), bringing students, artists, locals and outsiders to the refuge for a pageant, duck banding, butterfly tagging, and prairie planting. Over 500 visitors showed up to participate in science, watch the performance, and enjoy the Prairie Wetlands experience.

I had the opportunity to assist the artists organizing the pageant with the creation of of man-powered, nature-themed marionettes, as well as the performance itself. We placed the artwork (mock bison, flowers, banners of wind), around the refuge, where performers would move them in accordance with the narration. I acted as the right hand of the giant paper-mache sun—a brightly painted puppet that took 4 people to operate.

I got to see some of my coworkers at their happiest and most engaged: Molly Stoddard, vivacious as ever, shared much of her knowledge of prairie ecology with an attentive group of visitors on her nature walk. Dave Ellis got to collaborate one-on-one with young visitors as they tagged butterflies and explored what crawls at the base of the tall stems of prairie plants. The Habitat And Population Assessment Team, which I’ve gone with to travel around the region removing ducks from traps to band them and release them, was a big hit.

I could see the excitement in our visitors’ eyes after they’d banded the ducks caught in our wetlands, dying to tell their friends and families about their experiences here. Teresa Jaskiewicz educated many of our garden-oriented visitors about native prairie restoration in the best way possible—by taking visitors out to replant a part of the refuge that had been degraded with plants from our greenhouse, and rewarding our volunteers by letting them take home some potted native plants.

It’s shaping up to be quiet last week for me here at Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. The staff is gearing up for the school year (the school district uses the educational resources here and the support of the USFWS staff to teach outdoor environmental education through the year). I am helping with this preparation, wrapping up projects I’ve taken on this summer, and taking care of school-related things I’ve put off all summer.

While the thought of returning to my little college south of the Twin Cities excites me, this prairie pageant has truly highlighted the way I’ve become a part of a perfectly pleasant—and positively potent— party of educators and conservationists.