As fly fishing guides in East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we feel it’s our responsibility to be ambassadors of the rivers and streams. As parents it’s is our responsibility to teach our children how to become stewards of the land and instill in them the knowledge that our natural resources must be protected. Our hope is that if we share our passion for the environment with those around us, they will become passionate about protecting and preserving it.
This year we had the opportunity to be Trout Unlimited Volunteers for the Trout In The Classroom project at Townsend Elementary School. The project was provided by our local Little River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. A large fish tank, chiller and bubblers were in place and the children cared for the eggs daily. Once the eggs arrived the kids had a checklist of chores to care for the tank and the trout which included monitoring pH, ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites in the water. They had the exciting opportunity to watch the fish hatch and grow daily in their classroom. The fish developed from eggs and eventually grew large enough to put in the river.
Our first project was last fall September thru December with a release of the trout just before Christmas break. The second was during the spring semester from January through May. On May 15th, Townsend Elementary 3rd, 4th & 5th graders released over 200 rainbow trout into Little River at the KOA Campground in Townsend, TN. Each child was given a cup that held two to five little rainbow trout and then gently released them into the river to watch them swim away.
The biggest part of this exercise besides making children aware of the trout in streams near their homes was to also make them aware of the environmental conditions that must be maintained for trout and other fish to survive. All of the kids instantly took an attitude of ownership in the river and wanted to see the river kept clean for “their fish”. Part of the curriculum was to make the children aware of things that can contribute to poor water quality and the everyday things any of us can do to keep it clean including proper disposal of motor oil, trash, and responsible use of fertilizers.
After the trout were released in Townsend, the kids were loaded onto a school bus which took them into Great Smoky Mountains National Park so they could celebrate by joining Park Rangers at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area to learn all about the waters that surround our little town in the mountains.
To kick off the field trip 8 kids were chosen to put on waders and felt sole boots to join fisheries biologists along with TU and parent volunteers in the river to collect some fish with electro-fishing equipment. The kids learned how the electro shocking devices worked and they were able to net and capture the stunned fish. Then they joined the rangers along the river banks to identify the various species found in their buckets. The kids loved it and the parent chaperones and teachers were fascinated as well.
Another activity was led by an entomologist who showed the kids how to use kick nets and buckets in the river to collect bugs and learn what lives under the rocks; stoneflies, mayflies, dragonflies, caddis and even some crayfish! The biologists then taught the kids how these various insects are indicators of a healthy stream and clean water. They are also the base of the food chain that all aquatic animals like fish they raised depend on.
A third station had a team of educators who talked to the kids about the importance of clean water. Hands on activities, games and songs to keep the kids excited about learning. The simple message was “Keep the river clean”. The children slowly realized that if the river wasn’t clean enough for bugs or fish it wasn’t clean enough for them to play in or use for drinking water. While it’s a simple concept you could see the realization dawn on the children and all had the resolve to be aware of small things that add up to a clean river.
The students, staff and volunteers at Townsend Elementary are already making plans for next year to get new trout eggs for the classroom in August. It has been an excellent and exciting experience to see how caring for these little trout opened the eyes of our students to how they can protect and preserve our rivers.