More than a dozen Lakeland College students and two faculty members joined Associate Professor of Biology Paul Pickhardt Tuesday for an hour-long walk in Grether Woods behind campus to commemorate Earth Day.
The idea for Lakeland's inaugural Earth Day Walk belongs to a trio of students, led by Nicole Cox, who developed the concept when assigned to promote an event for a communications class. Students were armed with plastic bags to pick up litter while also learning about the Grether ecosystem.
"I wanted it to be an event that's related to something I'm passionate about," said Cox, a sophomore. "Once we started planning it, it wasn't about the assignment anymore."
As students strolled and picked up trash, Pickhardt gave walking ecology lessons. He talked about the budding trout lily, which will soon produce beautiful yellow flowers, while the sound of wood frogs provided the soundtrack. Pickhardt also warned of the impending poison ivy that will carpet much of the Grether floor.
Pickhardt pointed out and talked about numerous species of trees and plants. He discussed the Emerald Ash Borer's devastation of Wisconsin's Ash trees, praised the taste of maple syrup from the sugar maple tree and raved about the flavor of hickory nuts from the Shagbark tree. Pointing to tiny holes in the sugar maple tree, Pickhardt explained that a yellow-bellied sap sucker will peck those holes so syrup will surface and attract insects. When the bugs come to feed on the syrup, the birds pick them off.
He also showed the group what a pileated woodpecker can do to a dying tree, putting his entire hand inside a large hole the bird had created four feet off the ground.
This time of year, the Grether Woods hold about a half-dozen temporary pools of water that for a few months are home to frogs, salamanders and all sorts of other life. Chest deep at some points, these ponds will dry up by mid-summer, but their role in Lakeland's ecosystem is significant.
Pickhardt's pride in and love for the 50-plus-acre Grether Woods – located just a short walk from the natural sciences classrooms – is palpable. He takes many classes into those woods for real-world, hands-on research and course work.
"Lakeland is lucky to have this property," said Pickhardt. "I really enjoy it back here."