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Nature's Timekeepers Project - The Lake Superior Phenology Network

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by Gail Clifford MD (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and photographer traveling the world, often following my daughter. Visit our site at and follow us on Instagram @ABLETravelPhoto
Published June 20th 2022
Duluth, MN, USA, footpath, footbridge, Nature's Notebook, Harbor, park
Footbridge to Leif Erickson Park Duluth Minnesota

Do you marvel with a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world? There's so much beauty and intrigue in the world around us, especially here in the Great Lake Region. At any moment so many things happen in our natural world, fascinating things that we are often completely unaware of unless we intentionally stop and study them. It may appear as the action in a breaking wave, the interaction between two birds, or new growth on an old tree.

As the city prepared for Grandma's Marathon this June, eagle-eyed observers spot small metal labels on a set of trees along the paths. The tags include the tree's common name, scientific name, and a fun fact. In addition, with the use of your smartphone, scan the QR code and you'll learn about the Phenology Network's latest project.

Phenology is defined as "the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life." It's important for scientists who can monitor the effects of climate change on seasons. Specifically, as spring occurs earlier, plant communities are affected. The timing of when new growth occurs or when leaves drop matters to their life cycle.

Note: In Australia, the local Phenology Network can be located via ClimateWatch.

Nature's Notebook, Phenology, Observation, Scientific, Everyone Can Help
You Don't Have to Be a Scientist to Help Save the Planet

I learned the easiest way to track down the parks where projects are in progress was by going right to the app. Choosing "Nature's Notebook" will warn you it's going to take some storage on your phone. But once it's installed, you can open to projects and sites to help scientists study plants and animals.

It sent me to Leif Erickson Park.

You'll have the opportunity to enter the number of seed cones or pollen release cycles and whether there's snow on the ground. You'll even enter how many of you were observing and how long you spent.

Trees chosen for this project include maple, boxelder, balsam fir, paper birch, dogwood, and green or mountain ash. University of Minnesota Duluth Biology Associate Professor Jessica Savage says these trees are chosen because they are "important and iconic along Lake Superior, but also because they're often species of concern."

Leif Erickson Park, Duluth, Minnesota, USA, park, peaceful, sunrise
Leif Erickson Park in Duluth, Minnesota

Three trails chosen for the Duluth, MN study include the Lake Walk, Boulder Lake, and the Bailey Nature Center. As the Phenology Network pursues its goal of 4 million phenology records for 2022.

Like our psyches, it may not be the moment-to-moment thoughts that create our walking-around thought process. Some people say it as your thoughts create your words which create your actions create your life. The big things shift us, these small things create us -- and the world around us.

Observe. Pay attention. Volunteer. Make a difference.

And as a special bonus, look up and see the wonders that surround you.

Duluth, Minnesota, Aerial Lift Bridge, September, Twin Harbors, USA, bridge, unique, one of a kind
The Outer Harbor View From Leif Erickson Park
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