Alumna, UWL instructor helps maintain area trails, recruits students to help
Alumna Faye Ellis’ original plan was to move out of La Crosse after earning her undergraduate degree in biology. But UWL’s Biology Department and the surrounding natural beauty of La Crosse convinced her to stay.
Ellis, ’01 and ’05, continued on to earn a graduate degree in biology at UWL and is now a senior lecturer in the department.
“I feel so lucky to work where I do. My colleagues are amazing and they take teaching very seriously,” she says. Plus, the natural beauty of La Crosse provides an unparalleled place to enjoy nature and raise a family, she adds.
And Ellis is dedicated to helping maintain La Crosse’s natural surroundings.
As a board member of the community’s Outdoor Recreation Alliance, Ellis recently worked with other UWL faculty in the Biology and Environmental Studies departments to recruit UWL student volunteers to clean up Grandad Bluff. The group of 135 total volunteers — including 26 UWL students — spruced up trails while removing invasive species and trash 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.
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, says Ellis.
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.”
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.
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.”