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STOCKTON FWO: Third Annual Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day
California-Nevada Offices , October 27, 2012
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Stagg High School students examine the Calaveras river from a bridge crossing.
Stagg High School students examine the Calaveras river from a bridge crossing. - Photo Credit: Kristine Williams (FLCR)
Jim Marsh of FLCR talks to students about their wildlife journaling exercise.
Jim Marsh of FLCR talks to students about their wildlife journaling exercise. - Photo Credit: Kristine Williams (FLCR)
Stagg High School students taking notes for the journaling exercise.
Stagg High School students taking notes for the journaling exercise. - Photo Credit: Kristine Williams (FLCR)

By Donnie Ratcliff

The morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, saw 85 students from Stagg High School in Stockton, California gather at the base of New Hogan Dam in Calaveras County to spend a day connecting to their local watershed on the Lower Calaveras River.

The event marked the third annual Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day and increased student numbers reflected the event’s growing success, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Anadromous Fish Restoration Program (AFRP), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and members of Friends of the Lower Calaveras River (FLCR).

The AFRP and FLCR worked with Stagg High School biology teacher Marcus Sherman to actively identify and recruit interested students who live near the lower reaches of the Calaveras River in Stockton – a reach that is mostly characterized by high channelization and structural controls, in stark contrast to the riparian area students visited.

“This was definitely our best Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day yet,” commented AFRP fishery biologist Donnie Ratcliff, who has organized this event for the past three years as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Connecting People with Nature program.

Students arrived by bus at the Monte Vista Day Use Area, situated immediately adjacent to the Calaveras River and nearby hiking trails. Within a half-hour students were quickly divided among four different work stations, all emphasizing basic field biology techniques and healthy watershed functions.

Dr. Stacy Luthy, a University of the Pacific professor and past Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day leader, directed students through a fisheries activity that focused on fish within the Calaveras River and aquatic habitat below New Hogan Dam.

When Dr. Luthy posed the question, “What is different about the river here compared to the river in Stockton?” students were quick to point out that no levees could be seen and “this is probably what a river is supposed to look like.”

Another workstation focused on bird watching and identification, was headed by FLCR member Nan Ballot. Ballot, a past Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day volunteer, helped students find and identify different bird species hidden among the tree canopy with binoculars. Small Phoebes seemed to be the most prevalent and easy to spot species.

Many students, in their comments, noted that an activity new to this year’s event was their favorite. Retired Stockton educator and FLCR member Jim Marsh showed students the difference between “looking” and “seeing” in an activity focused on seeking out natural treasures in the immediate vicinity.

“Even scientists draw pictures,” said Marsh as he encouraged students to explore the surrounding area, pick something to observe and detail all they could about it in a journal entry.

“It’s so encouraging to see young people’s faces excited about being outside,” he said. After exploring, students sat in a circle and shared their observations with one another in an informal discussion.

A fourth and final activity was led by FLCR member Dale Sanders and focused on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and their respective roles in the ecosystem around and beyond the river.

After the students completed all of the activities, a lunch was held outdoors at the Army Corps’ Observation Point and students engaged in meaningful conversations with attending adults and also spent some free time exploring the waters edge of New Hogan Lake, an opportunity many students may not have otherwise had.

Following lunch Army Corps Ranger Gary Basile and AFRP’s Donnie Ratcliff gave a presentation highlighting the importance of recreational water safety and discussed the reservoir ecosystem of New Hogan Lake.

While feedback from activity leaders and event volunteers was highly positive, it was the comments provided by the students that clearly highlighted the large impact this event has on creating conservation-minded youth.

The most overwhelming response from student suggestions was that students be allowed to have more time and additional activities added to future Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Days.

One student commented that their favorite aspect of the event was, “‘learning about the river and lake, learning how to observe nature, spending time in a beautiful place with my friends and talking to so many nice adults that were excited to share with us.”

Another student commented, “The Calaveras River provides habitat for all kinds of animals, gives us clean drinking water, protects us from floods and has lots of cool stuff to explore and learn about.”

It is clear that the Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day is a popular event that succeeds at engaging youth in dialog concerning the importance of their local natural resources and is effective at encouraging them to think critically about how to conserve such resources for the future. A comment from event organizer Donnie Ratcliff sums up the students day on the river.

“I am of course greatly pleased that the single most popular comment regarding what they'd (students) have us do different is to spend more time and have more activities, pretty cool for a bunch of teenage kids to want to spend more time learning about nature on a Saturday!”

 

 


Contact Info: Paul Cadrett, 209-334-2968 x 312, paul_cadrett@fws.gov



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