Bye, bye buckthorn!

UWL junior Ashley Lardy works with UWL faculty member Faye Ellis to uproot Buckthorn at Grandad Bluff.

UWL junior and biology major Ashley Lardy works with UWL faculty member Faye Ellis to uproot Buckthorn as part of an effort to clean up Grandad Bluff on Saturday, April 20. A total of 135 volunteers turned out — 26 were UWL students.

Student, faculty help preserve bluff trails, environment they enjoy close to campus

La Crosse’s trail users come in many forms. Bird watchers. Mountain bikers. Avid hikers. The young. The old. And — of course — the college students.

“One of my fondest memories from my time at UWL was during cross country practice my freshman year. We finished a hard workout and walked up the bluff,” recalls UWL Junior Jack Schickel. “Then, we just sat up there, relaxed and took it all in.”

Since his freshman year, Schickel has frequently returned to Grandad Bluff — only a few miles from campus — to hike and run. It’s a welcome respite from studying. But those who use the trails, should help maintain them, he adds.

UWL Junior Jack Schickel walking over rocks at Grandad Bluff.
UWL junior Jack Schickel, an economics major, says his first volunteer trail clean up was in the eighth grade. Since then, he has learned how to not only clear invasive species, but also how to build and maintain trails. He enjoys putting those skills to good use. “I’ve seen the bad things that can happen when trails are not maintained — from invasive species taking over to trails washing out.”

That’s why Schickel joined UWL students in an effort to spruce up trails while removing invasive species and trash on Grandad Bluff Saturday, April 20. The effort, “The Grand Cleanup,” was organized by Jed Olson, vice president of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance, a local nonprofit established to create, enhance and protect Driftless Region trails. The clean up was possible with the help of 135 volunteers — 26 who were UWL students.

Faye Ellis, UWL senior lecturer in biology and board member of UWL’s Outdoor Recreation Alliance, worked with other UWL faculty in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments to recruit student volunteers. In addition to serving the community, it’s a way for students to see the detrimental effects of the invasive species they learn about in classes, she says.

Take a look at Grandad Bluff mid-summer and one of the only green things visible beyond the trees is an invasive species called buckthorn, she notes. It blankets the ground and crowds out native plants.

Volunteers specifically looked for buckthorn to uproot during the clean up.

But Ellis hopes students take away more from the experience than just roots. She wants them to leave with the idea that they can put their knowledge into action.

“We need to get people doing things. It’s not enough to learn about it and say, ‘that is really bad,’” she explains. “With invasive species, we have the ability to go right into our backyard and pull out buckthorn. It gives students ownership in their community.”

Faye Ellis, '01 and '05 cleaning up at Grandad Bluff.
Faye Ellis, ’01 and ’05, joined UWL’s Biology Department as a lecturer 14 years ago after earning an undergraduate and graduate degrees at UWL in biology. Ellis not only inspires students through volunteer work outside the classroom, she has been recognized for the work she does inside her classroom. Ellis received UWL’s Eagle Teaching Excellence Award in 2017, an award that originates with student nominations.

Ellis says her own use of the trails for hiking and biking motivated her to want to take care of them. She earned a trail master certification and then joined the board of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance where she is dedicated to maintaining and building community trails, along with UWL Biology Professor Scott Cooper and staff member Chris Stindt.

“I want to make an impact and this is one way I can,” says Ellis.

That sentiment is shared by students who volunteer.

“I like to give back and feel like I’m making a difference,” says Junior Ashley Lardy.

UWL junior Ashley Lardy cleaning up Buckthorn in Grandad Bluff.
UWL junior and biology major Ashley Lardy will graduate in 3 1/2 years and plans to eventually enter a career in healthcare. Her interest in healthcare is inspired by her desire to help others and experiencing cancer in her family. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer her freshman year at UWL and her grandfather died of lung cancer her sophomore year. She says connecting with others through volunteer work helped her get through those difficult times.

When Lardy isn’t pulling out buckthorn, she’s playing bingo with residents at Bethany St. Joseph with UWL’s Pre-PA club, making blankets for cancer patients, and planning community events and fundraising with her sorority sisters in Alpha Xi Delta.

As much as she gives of her time, she gets back, she says.

“I think I’m really lucky. I’ve gained a lot of valuable experience,” she says. “Alpha Xi Delta and the other organizations and events I’ve been a part of have shaped me into the person I am. They’ve helped me to identify my strengths and bring them out to share with the world.”

Lardy jumped at the bluff cleanup opportunity because she loves the beauty of the region and cares about the environment.

“Everything that matters to me, I try to do something about,” she says. “I guess I’m just passionate about a lot of things.”