Upper Mississippi River Nature Writing Contest

In the spring of 2017, fifth graders at Sand Lake Elementary were invited to participate in our pilot nature writing contest to share their experiences of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge. They wrote poems and personal narratives and on June 2nd, awards were presented at the school assembly by elementary teacher Jodi Hoscheit, Refuge manager Tim Miller, FWS visitor services ranger Jamie Bertram, and Friends of the Refuge - Mississippi River Pools 7 & 8 representative Ruth Davis.

 On June 17th, the first prize winners, Autumn (personal narrative) and Emma (poetry), and their parents enjoyed a 2-hour interpretive cruise with Ranger Katie on beautiful Lake Onalaska aboard the S.S. Squirrel, a pontoon board owned and operated by the North American Squirrel Association (N.A.S.A.). Other prizes included Ranger Rick subscriptions and gift certificates for the Prairie Wind Nature Store. The student writings are posted below, as well as in the Refuge Visitor Center on Brice Prairie.

 A special thank you to the teachers of Sand Lake Elementary – Mrs. Hoscheit, Mr. O'Neill, and Mr. Schollmeier for engaging the students; Captain Penny Becker for piloting the boat, Kwik Trip for providing the fuel, and N.A.S.A. for providing the boat free of charge.

The 2nd Annual Upper Mississippi River Nature Writing Contest will be awarded on June 5th, 2018 at Summit Elementary in La Crosse and Sandlake Elementary in Holmen.


1st Place 2017 - 5th Grade Poetry

Silent, swift, refreshing the breeze, the song of sweet birds, the buzz of the bees. I remember this sound from front and to back the wisp of the grass,
the train on the track.

This experience changed my life you see.
Not just “nature’s call,” the nature in me.
I’ve learned so much, discovered much more, the clouds, the plants,
It’s just not a bore.

The woods are there, the river’s waves to and fro, from crickets to deer,
they have nowhere to go.
Just remember that nature is earth’s floor.
Care for it, nurture it, and it will be there ever more.

- Emma G.  5th Grade
Sandlake Elementary - Holmen


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1st Place 2017 - 5th Grade Personal Narrative

The Trip to the Marsh

Excitement bubbled up in my stomach as I sat down on the leather seats of the school bus. In moments, it roared to life and slowly picked up speed. Faster, faster, and faster, we went leaving Sand Lake behind us, as third grade drove to the best place on earth.

After a bumpy ride over the black, concrete streets, the bus screeched to a stop. The doors opened and a woman climbed on. She was wearing a light brown uniform with dark brown pants. Printed on her shoulder was, “Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge” in white letters on a blue background. She explained that today we were going to collect seeds. I grabbed my dad’s shoulder tightly and tugged.

“I’m so excited!” I whispered when he looked down at me.

“I’m sure you are,” he replied.

The brief introduction didn’t last long and after the chaos of us getting off the bus, we were separated into groups.

Then we were off! Marching noisily on the path through the marsh, we all kept a keen eye out for any of the seeds that we needed.

As we grabbed reed seeds, water splashed up my rubber boots and it’s cool, sticky surface stuck to my legs. In the distance, a bird sang its song.

“I think that’s a chick-a-dee,” I told my dad.

“You could be right,” he said in return.

As we continued, the rangers kept pointing out different seeds and plants.

“Look!” I said, pointing to the geese flying overhead.

“Those geese are flying south for the winter,” the ranger explains.

“Cool!” I whispered.

As we continued, I felt quiet, at peace and one with nature. The sounds of birds in the distance, the wind blowing in my hair, and the sound of the grass and insects.

My heart was aching with sorrow when my father and the ranger said it was time to go.

Slowly, I trudged onto the bus and as we sped away, I longed to be there in the woods.

-Autumn B., 5th Grade
Sandlake Elementary – Holmen