Green in Action Honorary Mention
Fox River Academy Middle School
Appleton, WIThe Fox River Academy (FRA) students have been working on restoring a former city dump into an urban natural area. This area of the park has suffered years of neglect and abuse. There are remnants of the native vegetation, but these trees, shrubs and forbs are being quickly overtaken by less desirable plant species as well as invasive species. For more than 50 years there has been interest by community members to clean up this area and make improvements in the past, but no action has been taken until now.
In just six months, the middle school group of 22 dedicated students, made dramatic habitat improvements to the area. They researched and constructed a brush pile rabbit habitat (rabbitat) as well as a snake hibernaculum. These are both critical components as they have discovered that this area is a wildlife corridor as it lies in close proximity to the Fox River, a major waterway in Wisconsin. Removal of dangerous standing snags has been part of the restoration efforts as has been the clearing and cutting of box elder and other down trees. Firewood has been freely distributed to neighbors surrounding the restoration site. Clean-up efforts have also included the clearing of glass, plastic, and metal refuse, which proliferates at the site.
Recognizing that community support is essential, the group created brochures that describe the project. These have been distributed door-to-door in the neighborhood. Additionally, they spoke with the City of Appleton Park and Recreation Committee to garner their support and gain their approval to install a woodchip trail, signs, and a better public access by way of a railroad tie staircase. The staircase is currently under construction and a local sawyer is coming on May 7th, to saw some of the logs into boards that can be used to build bird houses and benches for the site.
They have been educating the community on the history of the site and teaching them about the importance of creating and restoring natural areas in an urban area. From their discussion with Appleton Mayor Hanna, the group knows that a stream once ran through the park. We are interested in finding the original stream bed, and restoring it to its former path. This will improve diversity of species and will attract desirable wildlife such as aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and neo-tropical birds. This restoration project requires hearts, head, and hands. It will not be easy, but the group is confident that they will succeed.
Furthermore, they have designed a fundraising project where they will be using some of the bottles found on site to create whimsical art pieces to offer for sale. Another future project includes the design, creation, marketing, and sale of tree cookie drink coasters made from wood cut at the restoration site.
The Fox River Academy is not an ordinary school. The lessons learned here will not be quickly forgotten as they have relevance beyond the school walls. Congratulations and best of luck in all future projects!