Alex Jicha releases a rainbow trout into Johnson Lake earlier this month during the annual Kenai Peninsula Salmon Celebration. The event was attended by more than 500 students, including Jicha's sixth-grade class from Sterling Elementary School.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
A school year of study culminated with a celebration of salmon last week for elementary school students from across the Kenai Peninsula as they gathered at Johnson Lake State Recreation Site.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education Program kicked off last fall when students gathered at various sites for egg-takes. Classes have followed the development of their eggs over the winter, and participated in other educational opportunities, such as fish dissections, along the way.
On May 2, about 500 students converged on Johnson Lake to help Fish and Game release a truckload of catchable-sized rainbow trout. Other classes stopped on the way to release their classroom-reared salmon fry at Centennial Lake.
Tracy Smith, Fish and Game’s Mobile Aquatic Center coordinator, said the salmon celebration was a great way to tie together the things that students learned about salmon and their ecosystem during the course of the year.
“Today is learning about what fish eat,” said Smith, who added that her station had been dubbed the “Fear Factor” booth because it deals with eeewww bugs.
Makayla Wong, Shaelyn Van Meter and Demery Garrant work on a report about the day's activities for their fourth-grade class at Tustumena Elementary School.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“It’s everything you don’t see in the water when you think it’s clear. This shows students what’s in the environment once they release the fish. What are they going to eat now if no one is there to feed them? If aquatic insects aren’t there, then what?”
Other salmon-related activities at the event included a salmon “wheel of life” and a demonstration of water sampling techniques by Shelly Brenneman, an education coordinator for the Kenai Watershed Forum.
“We feel educating young people of the peninsula is an important way to ensure our watershed stays healthy in the future,” Brenneman said. “We’re helping students realize they have some of the cleanest, clearest, best water for salmon in the world. We need to realize that, and to do what we can to keep it that way. Water monitoring is a good way to make sure we’re doing a good job.”
Brenneman said she’s worked with several classes during the school year monitoring local streams by taking samples to determine things like pH and turbidity. Students take note of changes in readings during the course of the year.
Brenneman said she knows some of the lessons have made an impression, because she saw students she worked with during the year be able to teach students she hadn’t worked with.
“It’s neat to me that they’ve learned it, and that they can share it,” Brenneman said.
Of course, part of Fish and Game’s mission is to promote fishing, and students had an opportunity learn things like the best way to handle a fish and remove a hook. State park rangers were on hand to teach water safety as part of the “Kids Don’t Float” program, and volunteers from the Kenai River Professional Guides Association taught kids the finer points of casting with hard tackle and fly gear.
Jacques Kosto, a park ranger for the Kenai River district, said rangers spent time in classrooms earlier this spring, so the salmon celebration was a nice chance to review safety rules before boating season starts.
Students who hadn’t had a classroom session got a more in-depth class.
“We go over why you wear a life jacket, when you wear a life jacket, and what the best life jacket is by the way, it’s the one you wear,” Kosto said.
Advice from the fishing guides included such gems as, “You can’t catch a squirrel, so stay out of the trees.”
“I love it. I love fly-fishing, and teaching kids to fly-fish is fun. It’s a lot easier than people might think,” said Nick Ohlrich.
Ohlrich said he was impressed by the opportunity students had to learn about salmon, perhaps the most important resource on the peninsula.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for kids to get out of school a little bit and have some fun,” Ohlrich said. “That’s the way to do it trick them into learning.”
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