Time has passed, we have been quite busy. While many of you were off at the Fly Fishing Expo in Macomb County, TNT was teaching fathers and sons the art of casting a fly rod on the frozen shoreline of Walloon Lake at Camp Daggett. Later in the day, we would get the opportunity to spin some feather and fur with the same 60 individuals who were spending the weekend to re-connect with the outdoors at this wonderful facility. Very cool to see Dads put down the lap-top and shut off their cell phones to actually spend some time with their kids communing with nature. We have been happily involved with this program for three years and are being told the Camp is looking at expanding it for two weekends- if we can only maneuver it around the Fly Expo.

These cold winter months have us enthralled with the SIC/PALS class as well. We last left off with Picking up the eggs, which are now 3 inches long and about 50-60 of them, but a few months back they were small little fry with yolk sacs weighing them down in the aquarium. In March, we took a field trip to the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council to talk about Watersheds- What are they? Jennifer Gelb, Ecology Biologist, happily led the class through the many displays of our states great water and shoreline attributes and we also touched base on the threat of non-native invasive species- such as purple loosestrife, phragmites, zebra & quagga mussels and the ever threatening Asian Carp. She even passed around lamprey in a tube(preserved) for everyone to see. The highlight of the visit is the scale model of a small community. We sprinkle various colored Kool-Aid drink crystals across the landscape to represent fertilizer, salt, road oil, dirt/mud, industrial pollutants and various other non-source point pollutants. The best behaved kids are then chosen to operate the spray bottles and make it rain down on the village. Slowly, all the colors of lemon-lime and kiwi-strawberry collide with grape and cherry and other childhood memories become a flood of brown grey muck as they funnel down the banks and roadside drainages to the lake at the end of the stream. Everyone gasps a resounding “EEEEWWWW!!” The message is clear, these kids are headed home to tell their parents not to cut the lawn too short, over water or use fertilizer, keep the car maintained and use more environmental friendly methods to rid ice in the winter and have a ‘green’ home.

A short month later, the PALS class had the honor of being joined by Heather Seites-Hettinger from the DNR to actually dissect a fish. We luckily obtained a few small coho and chinook that had ‘gone to the big sea in the sky’ during the night prior from the Platte River Hatchery. I personally thought we would get some resistance from the children about cutting up the poor little smolts- there was none. They dove right in, all of them. We talked about various fins and fin function, went inside, made the slice from ventral fin up to  the gills and explored the visceral functioning organs of the fish. After pointing out the obvious stomach, liver, intestines, gills and air bladder, a few daring young biologists followed Heather’s lead and went in to find the brain. I am very glad we added this aspect to the SIC experience, these kids all walked away with a memorable moment they will recall when they are in AP Biology in High School.

BUGS! BUGS! BUGS! I love macro-invertebrates~ especially on a Northern Michigan stream that is beaming with life. A widely known secret, kids like bugs as well. They are equally impressed when you show them a frozen landscape and dip a net into a river and then pull out a screen wriggling with life. We walk down to the Bear River at Sheridan Bridge because of proximity and it has two very diverse eco-sytems. Above the bridge, the river is sluggish and still show signs of when this was a working river. Old farm tractor parts and former concrete dam scraps dot the bottom, filled in by silt and sand. We rarely find much diversity here, scuds(amphipoda) and cranefly larvae with a few mayfly and caddisfly larvae. Below the dam begins the Whitewater park and recent Kayak improvements move the water along and carry sediment, exposing more gravel and woody debris. We find between 20 and 22 different families: Mayflies(Ephemeroptera- isonychiidae, heptagenidae, baetiscidae and ephemerellidae) and Stoneflies (Plecoptera-pteronarcyidae, taeniopterygidae, and perlidae), dragonfly, damsel fly nymphs, tons of scuds and trichoptera species. Take a child to a river and turn over a few rocks or old wood and watch their eyes light up when a hellgramite or giant stonefly crawls out from between its niche. Kevin Cronk from TotMWC joins us and  explains how these animals are bio-indicators and how monitoring a stream can help determine if something has happened or changed in the past year if certain sensitive EPT(ephemeroptera, tricoptera, plecoptera) families have diminished or completely disappeared. These microscopic animals are the literal ‘canary in the coal mine’ for our watersheds. Behind us, in the river, we have to be very careful not to disturb a steelhead on a recently made redd as she readies to deposit a future generation of silver bullets. We always want to leave a minimal footprint when we enter the river so we always release our macro-organisms back in to the water after the class has had the chance to watch their amazing behaviour.

Yesterday, we went to Sheridan Elementary to have our last classroom visit with the SIC/PALS kids. Next week we release the salmon into the Bear River. The entire school will attend, newspaper and local television will be on hand as we escort the 70 or so salmon fry to their new home. The visit yesterday was a casting lesson for the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes. As Mother Nature would have it, winds were a steady 30 mph and the mercury may have touched 40 degrees, but not for long. A fine mist greeted us and later we saw white pellets dance from the clouds. That did not phase the kids. Paint the sky, answer the phone, pause, hammer a nail into the wood, flick the paint off the brush~ all various explanations we use to teach the newly sired wielders of the fly rod how to lay a line out and get that de-hooked woolly bugger in the hula hoop some thirty feet away. The girls tend to be more natural at casting, they don’t force it. The boys may have to prove something or they have residual spincasting tendencies  and don’t allow the fly rod to work with them. We may have a few future potential anglers of the fly in a few years. We always take time to answer questions the children have about fishing and our coldwater resources, always encourage them to become a  member of Stream Explorers at www.tumembership.org/youth or www.streamexplorers.org

Find a River Clean-Up and help keep our planet beautiful.