BLM-Alaska Quite Literally Promotes “hands-on” Introduction to Watershed Ecology for Youth Education

 Checking traps for fish BLM staff and kids checking the nets. 72 rainbow trout were caught and released

The students checked traps and caught several Dolly Varden juveniles. Photo by  Marnie Graham

Overnight, students caught and released 72 Rainbow trout. Photo by Marnie Graham


Stream table presentation


Group at Liberty Falls

Students got a stream table presentation which simulates changes of rivers over thousands of years in a matter of minutes. Photo by Marnie Graham

Group shot at Liberty Falls. Photo by Matthew Vos  

kids learning fish anatomy

Students learned about fish anatomy. Photo by Robben Taylor    

For more photos of the camp go to the BLM-Alaska Facebook photo album       

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 was held in July. The camp was designed to encourage Alaskan youth to explore various aspects of healthy fish habitat and to learn the basics of watershed ecology through hands-on activities. The first day of the camp started off with the group meeting in rural, Kenny Lake, Alaska. From there, Robin Underwood, executive director for WISE shuttled the kids to Silver Lake on the McCarthy road for an educational yet fun filled camp. Lead by Robin Underwood and BLM educational facilitators, the kids learned how to test for water quality, bug or macroinvertebrete identification, and even how to safely row boats and paddle canoes. In the afternoon, the kids helped in setting a net called a fyke net, which is designed to capture but not harm the fish that swim into it. The net was left overnight to try and capture some of the Rainbow Trout that inhabit the lake. Before leaving, these tough Alaskan kids took advantage of the unusually hot weather and played and swam for hours in the cold, clear, leech infested waters of Silver Lake. 

Next, the students and facilitators shuttled to a beaver pond where they each set a minnow trap with hopes of catching salmon fry (baby salmon) overnight. Then it was down the road where the kids setup camp for the evening.

The kids worked up quite an appetite by this point and after being briefed about bear safety, ate hot dogs, hamburgers and potatoes roasted over a campfire, which followed by every camper’s favorite dessert, s’mores.

After dinner, with youthful energy, the kids were back to playing Frisbee and a makeshift game of badminton using a clothesline as the net. When it was finally bedtime, the kids were off to sleep in tents that they had setup.

The next morning started with a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, oatmeal and a lot of coffee for the adults. Activities began with a hands-on, stream table presentation which demonstrated the importance of watershed stewardship by showing the impacts that hazardous materials and improper construction can have on an entire ecosystem. The kids built a model town and meandering river and quickly learned about erosion and other issues pertinent to the Copper River Valley watershed.

From there, the kids loaded into the van and shuttled back to the beaver ponds to check the minnow traps. The kids were excited and surprised to find that their traps held many Dolly Varden fry but no salmon fry.

Not only is this extremely fun for the kids, but these numbers are also reported back to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to help them in studies that they conduct. Then it was back to Silver Lake where the kids continued to work on their swimming and rowing skills before having lunch. After lunch, the participants helped to bring in the Fyke net that was set out the night before. To everybody’s surprise, the net contained 72 Rainbow Trout of varying sizes from 4-26 inches. One fish was used for a dissection and lesson on fish anatomy. These numbers and sizes were also recorded and passed on to Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

In the last few hours, on the trip back, the kids were able to get out and enjoy the beauty of Liberty Falls, a series of cold, crystal clear waterfalls that come from the mountains.

All the fun is only part of it, the Aquatic Ecology Camp provides youth with opportunities to connect with their communities and public lands through hands-on, real world learning experiences through community-based activities. Time in nature can improve children’s physical, mental and emotional health and also helps develop lifelong skills such as environmental and resource stewardship.

—Story by Matthew Vos