“Put your hand over the cup so no one falls out!” Evan Griggs calls out as he leads a dozen 4th and 5th grade students through a tangle of trees to the edge of Brown’s Creek. The students, who hail from St. Jude’s of the Lake in Mahtomedi, have been raising rainbow trout in their classroom since December and have traveled to Stillwater today to release the young fish into the wild. “When we get down to the creek, we’re going to release our fish here where the water is colder and your fish can hopefully live for a long, long time,” Griggs continues, as the students duck under branches and hop across a muddy deer trail. When they’ve finally made their ways down to the water’s edge, the countdown begins.
St. Jude’s is one of thirty schools and nature centers in Minnesota participating in Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom (TiC) program. TiC supplies these school groups with aquariums, chilling equipment to keep the water between 48 and 53 degrees, and about 300 rainbow trout eggs each. Students care for the baby fish over the winter and then release the surviving fingerlings into a designated trout stream or pond in the spring. In addition, Griggs, an environmental education specialist with TIC, visits with the students several times throughout the school year to teach them about fish life cycles, watershed ecology, careers in natural resources, and even how to fish. The program is funded in part by a grant from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
The students at St. Jude’s have done a good job of caring for their fish, and have arrived on site at Brown’s Creek Park with a cooler full of 139 baby trout, each about the size of a minnow. Griggs spent the first 15 minutes of the field trip explaining the process for releasing the trout and dividing the fish up among the kids. Now, each one stands tottering on the edge of the creek with a red solo cup full of trout in their hands. “5…4…3…2…1! Bye fish!” the children scream, as they dump their fish into the stream and watch them swim away.
According to teacher Jill Ryan, today’s trip is the second time the students have visited Brown’s Creek. During the fall, they explored a different stretch of the stream, hunting for macroinvertebrates with an expert from the Washington Conservation District. “The children were amazed once they realized how much is alive in the water,” she says. This is the school’s second year participating in the TiC program and they’re hoping to expand their animal-husbandry to include leopard frogs and painted turtles next year.
Though the focus of TiC is on fish, it’s clear that the students who participate learn a lot about environment health as well. “Look,” one boy observes when they get down to the water, “the creek is really shallow until it gets to the tree stump and then it gets really deep.” Later, as they practice catching magnet fish with toy fishing rods, Griggs explains that trout like to hide behind and under things like stumps and rocks in the water. Further downstream, Brown’s Creek Watershed District has worked with the Oak Glen Golf Course to plant shrubs and native trees that help to shade the water and create deeper riffles where the fish like to hide. During their spring field trip, the students also spent time picking up litter in the parking lot and exploring nature trails at the park.
As for Griggs, he’ll be out to Brown’s Creek Park four more times this month to release trout with students from nearby schools, and expects they’ll release 700-800 fish in total this spring.
If you’re a teacher or nature center interested in joining TiC for the 2019-20 school year, contact: Education Program Supervisor, Amber Taylor: firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about volunteering or partnering with TiC, contact: Evan Griggs: email@example.com.