BREEZY POINT -- Every morning shortly after school begins, Jim Minerich's students at Eagleview Elementary School in Breezy Point quietly walk outside to a scenic overlook above nearby Rice Lake.
The fourth-graders are learning all about the waterfowl that stop on Rice Lake. Through their binoculars they've seen 14 different species of waterfowl this spring, including tundra swans, Canada geese, blue-wing teals, ringnecks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, wood ducks and more. The lake is home to two loons and students have seen otters and beavers swimming by. The students themselves can identify many of the waterfowl species by sight.
Caitie Ryan, 8, planted a tree seedling Friday at Eagleview Elementary School in Breezy Point in recognition of Arbor Day. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
"This lake is just phenomenal," said Minerich. "It's just a great view. This doesn't happen very often, to have something like this at a school."
The Pequot Lakes School District's new elementary school has provided multiple opportunities for students to study the environment, literally, in their own back yard. Friday, all 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade planted white pine and Norway tree seedlings around the school in recognition of Arbor Day. Trus Joist in Deerwood donated the seedlings. Jeff Schommer, wood procurement manager for Trus Joist, helped students plant the tree seedlings.
Minerich said students have taken ownership of their new school and the school grounds, which include the Eagle View Nature Center. During the past year students have planted hundreds of plants, bushes and trees for a variety of projects that never would have been started without a $30,000 grant from the Pelican Lake Conservation Club, Minerich said.
"If we didn't have the Pelican Lake Conservation Club, we wouldn't have anything out here," said Minerich.
The nature center includes about 1,000 tulips and daffodils, planted in flower boxes last fall. The tulips are part of the Journey North project, which allows students from around the world to guess when tulips will bloom at Eagleview and other schools. Bushes, like red prince weigela, were planted to attract butterflies.
A killdeer sat on its nest near Eagleview Elementary School in Breezy Point. Students are able to experience nature close up at Eagleview where deer often roam through the property and waterfowl flock to nearby Rice Lake. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
Other plantings including blueberry bushes and glossy black chokeberries. Other teachers are using a few planter boxes, allowing students to plant their own flowers and conduct their own science experiments. Every grade at Eagleview has had an opportunity to plant flowers or other vegetation at their school.
"The neat thing is it's real life science," said Minerich. "It's outside. It's here."
Bluebird and bat boxes can be found throughout the school property and teachers are hoping an osprey eventually will move into the osprey nest built at the school.
A vegetable garden on the east side of the school was planted last summer and harvested in the fall. Students harvested 120 pumpkins, oats, corn and sunflowers. This year they plan to double the size of the pumpkin patch because many of the kindergartners and other students had so much fun in the pumpkin patch, said Minerich.
The school grounds also attract deer, which has become a problem. Minerich has placed plastic strips sprayed with cayenne pepper around the back yard to keep the deer away. Every night there is a herd of about 20 deer at the school, he said. An area east of the school has been planted with native prairie grasses and wildflowers in hopes of keeping the deer there.
Rice Lake, which borders Eagleview Elementary School in Breezy Point, has provided many opportunities for elementary students. Fourth-grade teacher Jim Minerich would like to raise funds to place floating docks on the lake for students so they can study the bogs and wildlife that use the lake. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
The DNR MinneAqua program donated 30 fishing rods to the school and Minerich said he hopes to conduct casting clinics for students at the school's water retention pond.
Minerich said the school is now seeking additional funding to plant native wetland grasses around the water retention pond. He said they also would like to buy more binoculars, spotting scopes and benches for students to use in the nature center.
In addition, Minerich said they would like to build floating docks on Rice Lake so students can study the habitat there more closely. May 18, a public meeting will be held at Eagleview to discuss making Rice Lake a refuge area.
"We're just getting started," said Minerich.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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