Students’ plan will boost biodiversity along bike path

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
West Jefferson High School science teacher Mike Harkleroad holds posters as his students, (from left) Emma Hostetler, Grace Shields and Loraine Stone, pitch a biodiversity improvement project to the Madison County commissioners.

(Posted March 20, 2019)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

With posters and a persuasive pitch, three West Jefferson High School students convinced the Madison County commissioners to approve their proposal for boosting biodiversity along the Roberts Pass Trail bike path.

Sophomore Emma Hostetler, junior Grace Shields and senior Loraine Stone outlined their proposal during the commissioners’ park board meeting on March 19. Science teacher Mike Harkleroad accompanied them.

The students plan to plant prairie wildflowers and grasses at the Wilson Road trailhead along the bike path, which runs through Madison County and is part of the cross-state Ohio To Erie Trail. The trailhead is located on Wilson Road SE, north of State Route 665 and south of Sparling Road in Fairfield Township, near West Jefferson.

The group has scoped out a 1,500 square-foot area to be tilled then divided into three equal plots–one for seeds, one for seedlings, and one for a mix of seeds and seedlings. Planting likely will take place in May. The students will check back at the end of the growing season to see how each plot fared.

Shields explained that they chose prairie wildflowers and grasses because they learned in class that Madison County once was covered in prairies. In selecting specific species, they looked for options that are drought-resistant, can handle partial shade, and provide habitat for pollinators, Hostetler said. Their choices include gray coneflower, Indian grass, nodding wild onion, sweet clover, gray dogwood, common milkweed and dense blazing star.

According to Stone, the students will acquire seeds from area suppliers, such as the Ohio Prairie Nursery, and hope to get help from inmates at London Correctional Institution in growing the seedlings.

County Commissioner Dr. Tony Xenikis offered up financial help from the local Pheasants Forever chapter to which he belongs, citing the organization’s focus on conservation as a reason to support the project. The students will use the funds to purchase seeds and, if necessary, seedlings and other supplies.

The project is an outgrowth of the Ecological Education Initiative of Madison County, which aims to connect teachers and students with the county’s natural areas through hands-on projects. The plantings at the Wilson Road trailhead is the initiative’s first project, according to Julia Cumming of the Madison Soil and Water Conservation District.

“We’re reaching out to any school teacher who wants to work with us along the trail or at the (Little Darby State Scenic River Preserve) on ecological projects,” Cumming said.

To learn more about the Ecological Education Initiative, call Julia Cumming or Brian Hackett at (740) 852-4004.

In other bike path related news, the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails (FMCPT) hosted their first full moon bike ride of the season on March 19. Upcoming rides are planned as follows: April 19, 7:30 p.m.; May 18, 8 p.m.; June 16, 8:30 p.m.; July 16, 8:30 p.m.; Aug. 15, 8 p.m. Participants can choose between a 14-mile route and a 25-mile route. Both start at Phat Daddy’s Pizza, 15 E. First St., in London. See for details. There is no charge to participate.

Each spring, the Rails to Trails Conservancy sponsors an “Opening Day for Trails.” This year’s date is April 13, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. In Madison County, FMCPT members will hand out free coffee and cookies at the Coffee Peddler, 127 S. Main St., London, and share information about the bike path.

Retired geologist Scott Brockman will lead a geology bike ride May 4 during which he will talk about the formation of the terrain of the Ohio to Erie Trail. The ride runs from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and starts at the Indian Ridge parking lot at Battelle Darby Metro Park, 8465 Alkire Rd., Grove City.

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