Alcona students classroom is in the woods, park

BLACK RIVER – Despite the threat of rain, 50 Alcona Community School eighth-graders got the chance to get out in the woods where they talked with naturalists and other community experts at Negwegon State Park Wednesday morning.

Their day-long visit organized by Helen-Ann Prince, education coordinator for Huron Pines AmeriCorps, capped classroom studies about the natural world, and endangered plants and animals.

Some picked bright yellow marsh marigolds and held them in their hands or placed them in jacket pockets as they hiked along the trail and crossed a wooden boardwalk through forested wetlands.

“The purpose is to get them out engaging with community members about the natural resources here,” Prince said. “Negwegon has seven miles of undisturbed coastline and for a lot of students, this is the first time they’ve been here.”

The youths, ranging between the ages of 14 and 15, also were scheduled to learn about invasive species, clean litter from the beach and think about the different kinds of recreational opportunities the park can offer.

Retired Alcona school teacher Jack Guy taught groups how water is able to flow continuously from an artesian well in the park without the aid of electricity or a pump.

Guy likened the flowing well to the city water that is stored in a tower in Harrisville. The height of the tower creates water pressure, he said. Same with the artesian well, except that the water is flowing down from the hills behind the Mountain Bar & Grill, about two miles away.

The water is safe to drink and is tested on a regular basis, he said.

With the help of students, he also poured liquid through pierced, plastic cups of silt and gravel to demonstrate that the well’s water travels underground through a layer of porous rock sandwiched between two layers of impermeable material.

Other organizations involved in the event included the Department of Natural Resources, Friends of Negewgon State Park, Michigan Sea Grant and Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

Sierra Patterson of the U.S. Forest Service gave students an idea of how plants are given their scientific names in Latin based on what they look like or where they are found.

Patterson asked her groups to look at the plants around them and try to name them after their appearance, color and features. They could even name their discoveries them after themselves.

Ray Betz, 14, and Riley Somers, 15, came across a tiny white flower in a wetland area and named it as Aquaticus Whitis.

Another group named a dagger-shaped leaf after a Star Wars light saber.

“Good,” Patterson said. “Now you guys are all amateur botanists.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.