University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

A Different Kind of Trek

Nichole Angell’s (M.S. ’23) master’s project looks at aquatic invasive species prevention practices completed by boaters and trained watercraft inspectors.

Photo courtesy Progressive AE

The fresh morning dew coated my rainboots as I walked along the edge of Battle Creek Lake in Washington County. Peering into the water, I noticed a small swarm of minnows hiding among a tangled mess of aquatic plants. Squinting, I scanned through the various plant structures, making mental notes: native plant … native plant … native plant. I was searching for one plant in particular. 

 The thud of a car door broke my focus. Looking up, I noticed a man with rubber boots walking my way. This was another volunteer, a local lake association president: Starry Trek was about to begin. 

Starry Trek is an annual event that’s held every August, coordinated through U of M Extension. Volunteers across Minnesota work together, forming search parties at their local lakes. These search parties aren’t for a person, but rather an intimidating invasive species named starry stonewort. 

Starry stonewort is an invasive aquatic plant that looks like sunken clumps of grass with tiny white stars—called bulbils—that peek through the green plant material. These bulbils, much like the seeds of other plants, are the reproductive structures. The introduction of a single bulbil to a new lake can create an infestation leading to dense growth that shades out and kills native aquatic plants. These characteristics are why Minnesota is on high alert for starry stonewort. 

Despite starry stonewort’s ability to spread, only 20 lakes in Minnesota are currently infested. Stopping the spread is not a lost cause, which makes participating in Starry Trek important to me. 

Even with the best prevention efforts in place, there is still the potential for aquatic invasive species (AIS) to spread. Monitoring events like Starry Trek increase the likelihood of catching an outbreak early on, potentially saving millions of dollars in maintenance and control costs down the road. 

I am an annual Starry Trek attendee. I’m also a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, and a researcher with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. I work to find evidence-based solutions to preventing the spread of AIS before they are introduced and cause irreparable damage. 

I chose to join the Starry Trek expedition for the first time because I know what’s at stake when it comes to invasive species and their impacts on our water resources. But this underlying motive is not the sole reason I keep coming back to participate year after year. I come back because I love the community. 

Starry Trek brings together volunteers young and old, experienced and not, all with the same motivation to protect our waters. The diverse backgrounds of people who join Starry Trek range from lake association members to watercraft inspectors; from AIS researchers to neighbors who are passionate about Minnesota’s water resources. 

Each volunteer has their own unique story to tell, but despite vast differences, the love of water radiates from the group; everyone works together like a hive of bees, where the team always supersedes the individual. 

Each year I reflect on the Starry Trek event and the connections I make. These connections offer reassurance that the future of aquatic invasive species prevention has passionate and committed people behind it who will step up to keep their lakes and waterways clean. 

You can learn more about Starry Trek and sign up for updates at