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'Different' drawing helps girl win award

J.W. Smith Elementary third-grader Madison Benson receives her third prize plaque from Rich Davis, a Fish and Wildlife biologist, for her drawing of a Higgens eye pearlymussel. Brian matthews | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
J.W. Smith third grader Madison Benson's drawing of a Higgins eye pearlymussel won third prize for her age group in the Minnesota Endangered Species Youth Art Contest. SUBMITTED PHOTO2 / 2

BEMIDJI - J.W. Smith third grader Madison Benson's choice to draw a Higgins eye pearlymussel may not have been the popular choice among the Minnesota Endangered Species Youth Art Contest participants, but her uniqueness and creativity did not go unnoticed.

Benson won third prize for her age group in a statewide contest.

"I kind of chose it because it was kind of different from everything else," Madison said Tuesday. "I thought people would do more common animals like the Whooping Crane, so I just decided to do something a little different."

The Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service held the contest in conjunction with Endangered Species Day on May 18.

Benson's third-place honor came in the third- to sixth-grade category. She received a plaque and a gift certificate, while her artwork will be displayed in the field office and on the FWS website at

More than 570 students from across the state participated in the competition, submitting their artwork to judges by April 20.

Students were required to depict one of the state's endangered or threatened species in their natural habitat.

The endangered species that qualified included the Canada lynx, Piping Plover, Whooping Crane, Topeka shiner, winged mapleleaf mussel, Karner blue butterfly, Leedy's roseroot, Minnesota dwarf trout lilly, Prairie bush clover, Western prairie fringed orchid and Higgins eye pearlymussel.

Fish and Wildlife Biologist Rich Davis presented Benson with the plaque Tuesday afternoon at the Bemidji Lake State Park amphitheater, where she and her classmates were surprised that she had won.

"I told them that the point was not to win, the point is to learn about our state," J.W. Smith Media Specialist Gretchen Rusch said. "It would be kind of cool if we won but, but at least we learned something. Then we had someone who won."

Madison's mom, Nancy, and her teachers kept the news quiet, increasing the surprise during the award presentation.

"I had no idea," Madison said. "I was really surprised."

She was the only artist in the Bemidji area to receive an award. Davis said this is the first year for the art competition in the state but said it is something that is spreading to states across the country.