WISE kids catching bugs in a stream with BLM employees
WISE kids catching bugs in a stream with the guidance of BLM employees.
BLM sponsors Youth Aquatic Ecology Camp in Copper River Valley

The Youth Aquatic Ecology Camp sponsored by the BLM-Alaska Glennallen Field Office, in partnership with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE), is an overnight camp that will be held July 24 & 25. The camp is designed to teach Copper River Valley youth river ecology, aquatic entomology, hydrology, stream geomorphology, water quality, fish biology/behavior/anatomy, role of riparian areas, boating skills, and water safety. The students will also learn basic fly and spin fishing skills that include casting and fly/lure selection. Students meet in the morning at the BLM Glennallen Field Office and Bruce James, executive director for WISE shuttles the students to Silver Lake on the McCarthy road. The first day of camp, Bruce James and BLM educational facilitators teach how to cast spinning and fly fishing rods, row a boat, test water quality, and basic aquatic insect identification. Kids will then use their learned angling skills and ecology knowledge of fish to catch beautiful rainbow trout and in the afternoon they will assist in setting a fyke net to be left overnight. Fyke nets are designed to capture rainbow trout to assess population size, the number of fish captured is reported to Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The students then move to a nearby stream and beaver pond where they each set a minnow trap with hopes of catching juvenile salmon, overnight. They also observe and learn about a stream culvert that is not fish friendly. The students are then off to Bruce Jame’s home where he and his wife Kayane run a Bed and Breakfast. Kayane cooks an exceptional homemade spaghetti and meatball dinner while the kids engage in a game of capture the flag. After dinner, the kids end the evening by the campfire to discuss the day’s events and tell fish stories. For bedtime, the boys will be off to sleep in a rustic, but cozy canvas wall tent, and, the girls will either sleep in one of the nice cabins or open room at the B&B.

The next morning will start with a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and oatmeal. The day’s activities begin with a hands-on, stream table presentation given by BLM employees. The kids build a model town and meandering river to discuss issues pertinent to the Copper River Valley watershed. Using a stream table to demonstrate stream processes and then observing these processes on an actual river in Bruce’s backyard, strongly engages the students and allows for discussions of how rivers function to provide habitat and how human activities affect stream and watershed health.

The students then return to the stream and beaver ponds to check minnow traps. The kids are excited to discover coho salmon, Dolly Varden, and/or slimy sculpins in the traps. Streamside lessons are presented on salmon life cycles, what salmon need to survive, and where they can be found in streams. Then it’s back to Silver Lake where the students continue to work on their casting and/or rowing skills before having lunch. After lunch, the students check the fyke net, no wagers are bet, but the kids take guesses at the number of rainbow trout caught. In the last few hours before the students return home, they can fish or if they are brave, swim in the cold pristine waters of Silver Lake.

The Aquatic Ecology Camp uses the surrounding community, including nature, as the preferred classroom. It enhances a student's appreciation for the natural world, connects students to the place they live, and they learn to take care of their own backyards and communities by understanding where they live and their responsibility to be stewards of the land. Time in nature can improve children’s physical health and according to a range of studies, children in outdoor-education settings show increases in self-esteem, problem solving, and motivation to learn. For more information please contact WISE at 822-3575 or BLM’s Tim Sundlov, 907-822-3217.

- Matthew Vos