Penny Stiles

Penny Stiles helps coordinate volunteers at the 2019 Starry Trek in Aitkin County.

People who care about the spread of aquatic invasive species in area lakes now have an opportunity to do something about it.

Registration is open now for “Starry Trek” – an event where volunteers sample lakes to determine the spread of AIS in Minnesota lakes.

The trek begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 21. Volunteers will get expert training on how to look for and identify starry stonewort and other aquatic invasive species. Rendezvous sites are located across the state and are hosted by local agencies and organizations such as the Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Of special interest is starry stonewort, first discovered near Paynesville in 2015. Starry stonewort is a fast-growing grass-like form of algae not native to North America. It can be distinguished from other grass-like algae by the presence of star-shaped bulbils.

It can interfere with recreational and other uses of lakes where it can produce dense mats at the water’s surface. It is believed to be spread by the use of water-related equipment (boats, trailers, lifts, etc.) that was not properly cleaned. Starry stonewort has since spread to 17 Minnesota lakes.

The local Starry Trek training this year will be held at Ripple Lake. Training occurs on-site on the day of the event. No experience is necessary. Participants under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Participants will learn how to make and use an aquatic sampling rake.

Sign up is open now and will continue until about a week before the event. To register, go to, click on “Starry Trek” in the posts and select the Ripple Lake location in Aitkin County.

“An accurate count of participants is needed, as both the UMN Extension AIS Detector program and the Aitkin County SWCD provide materials and other items for each participant,” said Penny Stiles, AIS detector and lead coordinator of the event in Aitkin County.

“It is an opportunity to learn how to distinguish between native plants and invasive species look-alikes,” said Stiles.

In 2020, six volunteers participated in the Starry Trek based at Lake Minnewawa, according to Janet Smude, SWCD district technician and co-coordinator of Starry Trek. Just seven sites were visited in the scaled-down event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stiles said one goal of the program is to try to identify invasive plants before they have had a chance to spread in the lake or to other lakes. The theme for the Aitkin County program is “Eyes On the Lakes” with a goal to make folks aware of invasive aquatic plants that can be harmful to a lake and hinder the recreational use of lakes.

“We will look at 10-12 lakes in the area surrounding the Ripple Lake boat access,” said Stiles. “After the training session at Ripple Lake, each team of participants will have the opportunity to visit and sample at least two Aitkin County lakes. UMN Extension provides map directions to each site. We will also be looking for Eurasian watermilfoil, zebra mussels, banded mystery snails, curly leaf pondweed and more.”

All samples returned by each group are either identified at the training site or uploaded to the DNR and UMN Extension through the EddMaps system. The site coordinator is responsible to upload photos and information about the location of an invasive aquatic (plants, fish, invertebrate etc.). Final results are published by the UMN Extension AIS detector team leaders.  The local coordinator will also email participants information received from UMN Extension.

“This is a great opportunity for local folks interested in lake health to learn about aquatic invasive species,” said Smude. “It’s a fun morning visiting different lakes and meeting new friends with similar interests. We are blessed to have high quality lakes here. This is just one way to help keep them that way.”


To get to Ripple Lake from Aitkin, take County Road 12 south to County Road 39. Take CR 39 approximately two miles to the public access on the left. The address is 31138 Oak Ave., Aitkin.


If you are interested in finding out more about the Starry Trek program, visit Those who would like to become an AIS detector should visit

As always, stopping the spread of invasive species to other lakes and rivers protects habitat for native species such as sunfish and crappies. Overall lake and river health is better without invasive species. Healthy lakes and rivers benefit fish, wildlife and people. Remember, “Clean, Drain, Dry and Dispose.”

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