Guest post from Jenn Radtke, EMWREP educator
What do unicorn ranches, national parks and waterslides have in common? What about volcanoes that erupt with blueberry sauce instead of lava, mansions beyond your wildest dreams, and a few modest agricultural operations? These things might not seem to relate to one another at all, but they all appeared in Washington County when the middle school students from Salem Lutheran Church & School and 5th graders from Lake Elmo Elementary were in charge of land use planning.
On a recent cloudy Friday at Afton State Park, students gathered for a day of “Trout in the Classroom.” The students, guided by many wonderful volunteers, were able to get outside and learn how to cast a fly fishing rod. They used GPS technology to search for and discover facts about aquatic invasive species. Next was macroinvertebrate sampling, where students were able to see up close what small critters were living in Trout Brook, and used clues from the critters they found to determine if clean water flows through Afton State Park.
Finally, students were given a scenario and a creative opportunity. As they came into my session, I told them that their great-great Aunt Irma (whom they’ve never heard of) had left them an inheritance. They were each given a parcel of land (a sheet of paper) and half a million dollars. Each parcel was connected to a body of water in some way, but they were able to develop their land however they desired with their given budget and materials (crayons and their creativity.) As you might have surmised, there was no lacking in imagination!
At the end of their allotted time, we re-grouped and I asked students to help me put the pieces of paper back together to form one large picture. As the students worked together those 25 individual parcels of land suddenly became one picture, one place, a map of the southern portion of Washington County. Bounded by the St. Croix River on the east and the Mississippi on the west, Lake Elmo and Trout Brook in-between, we were able to see how each student’s choices for land development fit in the larger landscape.
As we looked at our creation, unicorns and all, I asked the group if any of their land use choices might pollute the rivers and what they might change. I was delighted to see the connections firing in their brains!
“I built my unicorn pasture right into the lake so they could drink, but now I think I would move it farther away so they didn’t poop in the water.”
(The students informed me that unicorns poop rainbows so it’s ok!)
“We have lots of coasters and waterslides, and while I’d love my own personal rollercoaster, we could probably share and leave some land natural. Plus there might be a lot of trash around there, so we need to make sure we have recycling bins around too.”
“I planted trees between my race track and the lake so that there was a barrier if any gas ever spilled.”
“We probably didn’t need to build our mansions so close to the rivers, since they are national parks – and I want the eagles to have trees to live in.”
These students were able to see the impact of developing land in silos, and how what we do on our own land can affect the entire watershed. I always start these lessons asking students to raise their hands if they drink water, or like to swim, or eat food, or fish. Everyone’s hand goes up – because water connects everyone and everything on earth.
So what can you do on your own land to protect the water you depend on? You can start very small and simple: rake up and sweep up leaves and grass clippings from your curb side so that they don’t go down a storm drain. Always clean up after your pets. Use fertilizers and chemicals wisely. And if you want to do more, you can build a raingarden, native garden or shoreline planting, and we can help! To schedule your FREE individual site visit with a conservation professional and to learn about grant opportunities, call 651-330-8220 or visit www.mnwcd.org
Trout in the Classroom is a watershed science education program funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the Minnesota Chapter of Trout Unlimited (MNTU), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It partners with local organizations such as the Washington Conservation District, Brown’s Creek Watershed District, and South Washington Watershed District, and is supported by volunteers from Trout Unlimited and the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa.