Area Students Fascinated by What’s in the River

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Front Page / Jun. 15, 2017 8:41am EDT

Clear Water Provides Great Chance To Learn
By M. D. Drysdale


Elizabeth Paige, Eve Huntington, and Jacob Doyle discuss what they learned with a Forest Service ranger. “I felt like we were going into a whole new world,” Paige commented. (Herald / M.D. Drysdale) Elizabeth Paige, Eve Huntington, and Jacob Doyle discuss what they learned with a Forest Service ranger. “I felt like we were going into a whole new world,” Paige commented. (Herald / M.D. Drysdale) A recent visitor to the U. S. Forest Service CCC Camp off Route 100 in Rochester would have seen a surprising sight.

For seven days, the lovely but little-used spot on the upper White River was over-run with young people, some of them grade-schoolers, and some high-schoolers. Some could be found huddled into little tents, and many were up to their knees in the river, looking intently at the water.

What was going on here? Weren’t these kids supposed to be in school?

In fact, they were.

“The goal here is to try to use the National Forest as a classroom,” explained Ethan Ready, public relations specialist with the Forest Service in Vermont. The Forest Service, he explained, was trying out a brand new program unveiled a few years ago by the U. S. Forest Service. It’s called the “Freshwater Snorkeling Education Program.”

The program aims to introduce students to the great diversity of aquatic life that can live in a pristine stream like the upper White, and thus the importance of keeping the rivers clean.

Big Turnout

This first try-out of the program in Vermont involved about 300 students from eight different schools during seven days last week and this. Area schools participating included those in Randolph, Rochester, South Royalton, Bethel, Strafford, Stockbridge, and Braintree. Students and their teachers spent four hours at the river site.

In charge of the program was Colin Krause from the USFS Southern Research station in Blacksburg, Va. On hand were Dan McKinley and Ethan Ready of the Rutland office with strong back-up from Sue Staats, Joe Cahill, and Jeremy Mears from the Rochester office.

The Rochester District was chosen to be one of the first to try out the Snorkeling Curriculum precisely because of the water of the upper White, according to McKinley.

The project leader from Blacksburg was in Vermont last year “and remarked how clear the West Branch White River was” thinking it would be ideal for the program.

“We jumped on that idea,” McKinley told The Herald.

He noted that the river had suffered damage from the Irene flood but that restoration work had made a big difference—just a year later, the trout nearly quadrupled.

A Lovely Site

The event could not have been held at a more lovely site. At the end of a short dirt road off of Route 100, there’s a small parking lot, and overgrown trails lead down to the River, sparkling in the sunlight and readily accessible to waders.

When The Herald arrived at the river last Friday, the excitement was palpable, both among the 54 and their instructors.

One group of high school students from Rochester were clad in black wet-suits and carried giant plastic snorkelers to peer into the water and spy on its secrets. Just downstream, a younger group from the Newton School in Strafford were also peering intently into the river. One student had seen a scorpion; several had seen trout.

Up to 10 species of life were in the river, they were told, because of the quality of the stream.

“This is super, super-clean water,” an instructor said. “They are living in the best water.”

Then he asked, “Why will cutting down trees affect the water?”

One of the Rochester students had a good idea: “Because land and the water are connected,” he said.

The instructor agreed. “Everything is connected,” he stressed.

Carefully, the children used tweezers to pick out tiny worms and bugs, alive and dead, from the river water, showing them off in the nearby tent.

“Take that bug and try to find out if it has a shell or not,” suggested Alex Pelletier from the Center for Aquatic Technology. The young boy carefully turned it over and indeed found a tiny shell. Other students crowded around, clearly fascinated.

“What do bugs eat?” was the next question. Lots of things, the students were told, including fish, dragonflies, larvae, and other bugs.

“I never thought that water would have so much life in it, said Hanna Smith as she and Grace Solos played with a little bug.

At another gathering, the students were asked what they had learned during the day. Eve Huntington, a seventh grader from Rochester spoke up.

“There’s a lot more life in the water than I thought there was,” she said “It felt like we were going into a whole new world.”

The Forest Service had several partners participating the project, including the White River Partnership, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Center for Aquatic Technology Transfer, and the Northbay Adventure Center located on Chesapeake Bay.

It’s hoped that the program will be held next year in the southern Green Mountain Forest.

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