Written by MUHS Teacher John Azpell
It was a cold and windy day near Horicon Marsh, but a burning desire to help restore parts of nature to its former beauty and diversity was in the hearts of the MUHS boys that day. At the beginning of the day, Ronny, a member of the Apache tribe, lit a braided piece of sweet grass, said a blessing for safety and for Mother Earth. With our arms out and hands facing the heavens he wafted the smoke between our arms with an Eagle’s feather and sent our prayers toward the heavens. Jim Uhrinak, the secretary of the Milwaukee Audubon Society, was the leader and had organized 5 volunteers from various places as well as 8 Marquette High School boys and myself.
Our task was to help cut and burn trees in a thick forest with rich soil so that only the oak trees remain, recreating an oak savanna. Oak savannas are the least preserved ecosystem today but were once very prevalant in the time of the Native Americans. Most Oak Savannas in the last 200 years have been converted to agriculture fields due to their rich soil or have been over grown with other trees and plant species since the repetitious burning of the prairies and the savannas has been stopped. Overall there were three groups in different areas of the Audubon land near Horicon Marsh where we cut down trees and burned them in fires. The Marquette group stayed with Ronny and helped him clear a little less than an acre of land from 10AM – 2:30PM. The boys worked hard and enjoyed the huge fire that we created. It was a great feeling at the end of the day to see a couple of 7 or 8-year old bur oaks be free without constraints to go forward into the future to spread their branches and acorns on the land. We helped revive part of the Savanna ecosystem from the past.
That was not the only reward. At the end of the day, the boys and I hiked to the Niagara Escarpment which was a half of a mile away from our work site. The Niagara Escarpment is a nearly 1,000 mile long cliff that begins in east-central Wisconsin, running northeast along side Lake Winnebago, forming almost all of the Door Peninsula and continuing north east through Canada and into upstate New York. There is a hand full of places where the rock that makes up the escarpment is visible above ground- near Horicon Marsh, WI and Niagara Falls. We climbed and traversed through crevasses and enjoyed the natural beauty around us.