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Almira students learn environmental stewardship at Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve (video)

almira-lakefront-1 CMSD NEWS BUREAU
5/6/2014

Some of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's youngest scholars jumped headlong and happily into serious ecological studies this morning.

More than two dozen students, mostly first-graders from Annette Locker's and Theresa Doherty’s classrooms at Almira K-8 School, toured the new Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve on the shores of Lake Erie. They learned to find migratory and native birds, preserve native plant species, yank out invasive plant enemies and generally understand the importance of environmental stewardship.

Their timing could not have been better. It was as if the stubbornly late spring of 2014 was beginning to burst all around them: Daffodils and other wildflowers were blooming, birds (red-winged blackbirds, various warblers and even an oriole) were providing a varied and near-constant musical soundtrack and the tentatively green plants of the scrubby fields and forests contrasted with the deep blues of Lake Erie and sunny skies.
almira-binoculars
“I see it! I see the blackbird with the red wing,” shouted one first-grader, who then marked it off on the paper on her clipboard.

Other students were temporarily commissioned to rip out invasive plants like phragmites and garlic mustard.

“Those are the ‘bully’ plants, the ones that push out the good plants, so we have to pull them out,” said first-grader Stephen Marquez.

The program at the preserve was created by the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes specifically for CMSD first-graders. The center also partners with the District to teach prekindergarten and kindergarten students on site at its South Park Boulevard location, said Shaker Lakes Education Director Raja Byrnside.

“That way, by the time they reach second grade they will have had a very comprehensive education in stewardship practices,” Byrnside said while walking through the preserve with the Almira students. “We’re so excited about this because the kids get to learn the importance of the habitat that’s out here and to learn about birds and to use science tools like binoculars.”

After the students learned Tuesday how to properly use their binoculars, they headed out to the wood-chip lined trails of the 88-acre manmade peninsula of woods, grasslands and wetlands jutting out into Lake Erie.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority is responsible for the preserve and the trails are maintained by the Cleveland Metroparks, which also operates a classroom nearby.  Both are accessible from Lakeshore Boulevard, just east of Martin Luther King Drive near the Cleveland-Bratenahl border.
 
Created by the piling up of sediment dredged from the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland harbor, the area had been open only for special events until On Feb. 6, 2012, when the port formally opened the preserve to the public.
 
The Army Corps of Engineers ceased dumping dredge materials there in 1999 and nature ran its course (with a little help from officials who approved the planting of native grasses), as plants and animals began to take over the wetland. In the decade that followed, naturalists and nature lovers, who recognized the property as an evolving ecosystem that had become a stopover for migratory birds, worked to persuade officials to open it up as a preserve.

 Port President and CEO Will Friedman wrote in a cleveland.com editorial last month that the port has applied for a new “submerged lands lease” from the state to allow it to keep the preserve open to the public for good.

The preserve is open from dawn to dusk and has 1.2 miles of shoreline and more than 2.5 miles of trails. It is already home to more than 280 species of birds and more than 40 species of butterflies, and more animals are expected to make their homes there eventually, naturalists have said.
 
The site was designated as an Important Bird Area by Audubon Ohio because it provides essential habitat where birds can breed, rest during migration or spend the winter.



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