News & Events
KELT partners with 7th-graders to scour Sewall Preserve in hunt for invasive plant species
BY BECKY KOLAK Special to WoRD
BATH — Through the rain, mud and underbrush, Kylie Forest, a seventh grade student at Bath Middle School, came upon a wall of twisting vines with bright orange roots. “We found the mother lode of bittersweet!”
Oriental bittersweet, a plant not native to Maine, is found in groves at the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s (KELT) Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath. The land trust faces an uphill battle to monitor and remove the destructive and invasive plant. In May, a big boost of help came from Bath Middle School (BMS) students, and an environmental nuisance became an educational opportunity for student scientists.
The aggressive vine has been identified as a problem by KELT since the Sewall Woods Preserve was established in 2004. It grows quickly up trees and shrubs, often smothering the living plant underneath and out-competing native forest species. Keeping track of the bittersweet groves and fighting new and old growth are often tasked to KELT staff, volunteers and specialists.
Now, KELT is getting assistance locating bittersweet from the BMS seventh-graders. Science teacher Monica Wright approached KELT last year looking for a “real-life” science project to teach ecology to her students.
“Students experienced first-hand the messiness of doing real science which is critical to our mission as an expeditionary learning school,” she said. “They made connections to ecology concepts, developed questions about the impact to the forest, and were resourceful to solve problems. Thanks to the KELT staff and volunteers, parents and other teachers, we all learned something new.”
On May 1, 62 students spent approximately two hours doing field work at the preserve, utilizing data collection techniques from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “Vital Signs” program (www.vitalsignsme.org).
“The field trip was a really fun way to learn more about what we’ve been learning in science,” said student Molly McDonald. “We found a lot of bittersweet.”
Lexi Wright observed that, in some areas of the preserve, bittersweet had killed many trees. Observations like this were used as evidence for the presence or absence of bittersweet in regions assigned to student groups to survey. Photography of suspected plants and GPS waypoints were also recorded by each group. The resulting information was shared with KELT to continue management efforts and will be added to the “Vital Signs” data base.
Back in the classroom, the invasives monitoring project expands across school subjects. During computer class, the photographs the students took of the plants and preserve will be edited into line drawings. In literacy class, students will write information about the forest features represented in the manipulated photos.
The resulting images and writing will be combined into an exclusive Sewall Woods Preserve coloring book — a fun, science-based teaching tool for elementary students in the community. The coloring book will be available for use through KELT and RSU 1.
As a follow-up trip to Sewall Woods Preserve, students will be returning in June to help pull and remove the nonnative plants found in May.
“Hopefully, we can destroy the bittersweet which seems to be messing up the forest ecosystem,” said optimistic student Marlee Kosakowski.
Becky Kolak is education coordinator for KELT. For more information on KELT, visitwww.KennebecEstuary.org or call (207) 442-8400.
Jacob Bradford holds up a budding vine of Oriental bittersweet while Riley Lamarre attempts to stay dry during the Bath Middle School field trip to monitor invasive species at Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath. (Becky Kolak photo)