The underwater habitat of the Arkansas River is a fascinating, diverse ecosystem with unending avenues for exploration. A group of 5th through 8th graders did just that this May through a GARNA and Trout Unlimited Program called Stream Explorers. The students met for 4 weeks, performing a variety of experiments and relating their inferences to what they observed in the Arkansas. “This is a scientific inquiry-based program,” says Tom Palka, a volunteer teacher with Trout Unlimited. “We guide the students to ask the questions and then to design the experiments they should conduct to answer them. In other programs, experiments are often conducted in a ‘do this experiment this way and tell me the answer’ but we encourage curiosity and imagination and let the students drive the process.” The goal of this program is that students will ask and answer questions they have about the river ecosystem and in the end, become better stewards of the unique river habitat.
The first week, students studied aquatic invertebrates, insects that hatch and develop in the river before flying off above water as adults. They performed a variety of behavior tests to observe whether insects prefer light or dark, warm or cold, or are surface or bottom dwellers. Then then related their studies to actual insects, looking to see what they could find in the shallow waters near the banks of the Arkansas. By looking at how these invertebrates develop, we realize they are a good indicator of water quality, as well as an important part of the food web for the trophy fish we hoped to see in the Arkansas. Plus, catching, identifying, looking at the life stages of these strange creatures turned out to be loads of fun.
The second week, students focused on what is needed in the habitat of a fish. They monitored gold fish respiration to make observations about the relationship of dissolved oxygen and water temperature. Each student spent time perfecting a unique habitat for a gold fish to take home with the goal of providing the fish’s necessities to live until the next week!
The third and fourth weeks, we put the research on where insects live and what fish need to the test! Students learned to tie flies in the traditional method although a preference for neon colored flies seemed to be a trend. They learned about the parts of a fly rod, how to tie knots, and how to cast. Finally, each student used his or her fly rod and the flies they tied to catch a trout at Kelly’s Pond outside of Buena Vista; this is a private pond stocked with fish and a great learning environment for new learners.
This is the 3rd year GARNA has partnered with Trout Unlimited to offer this program in Chaffee County. The series will also be offered in Buena Vista June 26 – 29.
A huge thank you to Keith Krebs, President of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, for helping coordinate, to volunteer teachers Tom Palka and Mike Perry, and to the Kelly Family and the Hi Rocky Store for allowing us to use of their stocked pond for beginner fishing. Salida Rec supported the program through assisting with registration, Youth and Family Initiatives and the City of Salida supported the program by allowing us to use space in the Touber Building. Colorado Parks & Wildlife provided a grant to offer each student who completed the program their own fly rod.