Keeping it clean

Tustumena students check up on health of Crooked Creek

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2007


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  The group picked up trash alongside the stream before they returned to school. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Students from Tustumena Elementary School and Kenai Watershed Forum's Dan Pascucci look at a new sign they installed on Crooked Creek in Kasilof last week. The students designed much of the information on the sign.

Photos by M. Scott Moon

Students in Kelly Balise’s sixth-grade class at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof have been taking good care of Crooked Creek over the past nine months, and last week they erected a sign sharing some of the things they’ve learned, and some things others can do to keep the creek healthy.

“We’ve been doing tests on the water, and catching fish and seeing what kind and how big they are,” said Daniel Baldwin, a student in the class, which participated in the Kenai Watershed Forum’s Adopt-A-Stream monitoring program this year.

“All the tests came back good,” said classmate Marcus Cisneros. “We have (the results of) all those tests up on a chart in our school — pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity.”


The group picked up trash alongside the stream before they returned to school.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

This year, students involved in the Crooked Creek monitoring project decided to share what they’ve learned about Crooked Creek with the rest of the community, including those who visit the creek to watch salmon swim by. Kenai Watershed Forum education specialist Dan Pascucci compiled ideas from students and worked with parents to design a sign that incorporates a conservation message. The sign includes information on Crooked Creek’s importance in the local ecosystem, students’ water monitoring efforts and things visitors can do to keep the watershed healthy.

“We call them streamkeepers,” Pascucci said of the students’ role as caretakers of their stream. “The sign that was put up is their words. It is their doing that that sign is up and says what it says.”

The class installed the sign Friday at the spot where Johnson Lake Road used to cross Crooked Creek. The road, and the two culverts through which the creek flowed, were washed out during major flooding in 2004. The sign installation is the first step in a project to restore damaged and unstable banks and improve access in the area.

Students said they learned quite a bit from their monitoring project. Among the species of juvenile fish identified in the creek were rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, king and silver salmon, and sculpins. Students also found and identified quite a few insects.

“If you find insects in stream, you know the stream is healthy,” said student Hunter Koch.

During the winter months, students said, it was sometimes challenging to drill through the ice to take water samples.

“There was one time the ice went all the way down to the (creek bed), so we had to go to the culvert (by the Sterling Highway) to drill it,” Baldwin said.

Students also noted the changes in water level throughout the year. Water levels were highest during spring breakup — after the ice finally melted.

Pascucci said stream monitoring involves hands-on, real-world science and illustrates for students the message that science isn’t always something done in a classroom.

“Within their community, there are students who are taking an active role in accomplishing a lot of different tasks concerning the health of their watershed. I don’t know if people fully comprehend the depth they’re getting into with these issues. They’re out there every month testing that water,” Pascucci said.

Pascucci said the program is geared to start off with the basics of water quality at the beginning of the school year. Students delve deeper into the topic of watershed health, and all the things that need to happen to keep a stream healthy, as the year progresses.

Students said they feel ownership over their little bend in the stream because of their constant monitoring and caretaking. Many said they planned to continue to visit the site, even after they have moved on from Tustumena Elementary.

“It’s going to make everybody feel good that they had a part in keeping fish healthy,” Makinna Halverson, a student, said.

“If we don’t keep the water clean, we’ll never be able to go fishing, and fishing is, like, awesome,” Cisneros said.

Will Morrow can be reached at

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