Getting Kids on the Stream in the Smokies

Charity and I have always felt strongly about getting kids out on the water. Even the most fervent conservationists won’t live forever and a big part of the job is to make sure future generations care for our natural resources. The best way to make that happen is to get them out on the stream.

Charity is the local coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom here in Townsend. Our local chapter purchased an aquarium and chiller so children at Townsend Elementary School can see trout hatch from eggs in their classroom and eventually release them in the river their hometown. Throughout the school year the children learn about chemistry as it relates to clean water along with biology lessons that apply to our local rivers and streams. When the children release the fingerling trout into the river they have an immediate connection to the river and sense of ownership in its future. (This was done in Townsend where the state stocks trout, not inside the national park where stocking is prohibited.)

Each child had a cup with 3-5 small trout to release into the Little River in Townsend

After the release the children were bussed into the National Park where we arranged for park biologists to spend a few hours with them on the water. The kids were broken into three groups and alternated between stations. Many fish species including trout were shocked up by the biologists for the kids to see up close. This was so the kids could see the diversity of life in the river and understand there’s more than just trout to think of. All of the minnows and suckers are part of the food web.

National Park biologist Matt Kulp talks about Smoky Mountain fish with kids from Townsend Elementary School

National Park biologist Matt Kulp talks about Smoky Mountain fish with kids from Townsend Elementary School

Another biologist helped the children seine aquatic insects from the river. The all got to see multiple species of mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, and even craneflies and dragonflies. Kids love creepy crawlies not to mention kicking around in the stream. This was the highlight of the day for many of the children.

Charity assists National Park entomologist Becky Nichols seine aquatic insects with the kids

Charity assists National Park entomologist Becky Nichols seine aquatic insects with the kids

A third station taught the children about what pollution can do to clean water. It’s not just fish who depend on clean water. Who wants to swim in dirty water or drink it?

We don’t expect every child to take up trout fishing or become champions of conservation, but a love of their local waters is a step in the right direction.