Over 300 students from three Warsaw STEM schools participated in the thirteenth annual student rafting expedition last week! Sixth graders from Claypool, Madison, and Washington traded their books and pencils for life vests and paddles to venture down Grassy Creek and across Lake Tippecanoe.
The program, coordinated and sponsored by the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) with the support of The Watershed Foundation as well as many community partners, aims to educate students about our local water resources and foster a relationship between them and nature. Before this excursion many of the students had never been on a lake or in a boat.
“The Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District is pleased to be able to offer this type of event to our county. It is collaboration at its best, involving many local entities and volunteers, working towards common goals,” commented SWCD Program Administrator Darci Zolman. “I can’t think of a more unique way to learn about the land-water connection, stewardship, and working together as a team. We are very pleased with this outreach and its impacts.”
Each raft holds eight to ten students and at least one rafting guide and instructor. Together, the teams make their way down the creek learning to paddle and about the importance of teamwork. During the trip the students conduct water quality testing, learn about the plant and animal life, and how to work together to splash their friends in nearby rafts. Conservation Officers from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources accompany the rafts to ensure safety on the journey.
The rafting portion ends each day at Pie-Eyed Petey’s Marina where the students board pontoon boats captained by volunteers who enjoy sharing their love of the lake. On the ride to YMCA Camp Crosley on Little Tippy, the students undertake a Secchi Disk reading to assess the water clarity. They could see the disk when lowered about 7 feet down into Lake Tippecanoe last week!
After lunch, each day culminates with a watershed activity that demonstrates how small pollutants on land have the potential to runoff and impact water quality. Each team builds their own community on a tarp and watches as the rainwater picks up pollutants on the land and collects in small dirty water puddles.
As the student’s day ended, each should have left knowing that they live in a fragile watershed. It is everyone’s responsibility to make Clear Choices for Clean Water in their community, for themselves and future generations. Simple actions such as picking up pet poo and planting native plants in their yards were demonstrated as examples of small choices that have a big impact. For more information about how you can be a good water steward, visit www.Indiana.ClearChoicesCleanWater.org.
“Opportunities such as this rafting trip provide meaningful moments for students to engage with our local lakes and streams. Our goal is to make deep connections so that we can recognize the human impact and monitor trends over time,” said David Burden, Principal, Washington STEM Academy. “Students are the future stewards and conservationist that will be responsible for the health of our community. We see tremendous value in participating with the Soil and Water Conservation District to learn alongside experts in the field.”
More than 50 volunteers step up each year to make these trips possible, and nearly 300 volunteers have given their time and expertise over the past 14 years. These loyal organizations deserve special thanks for their support: YMCA Camp Crosley, Pie-Eyed Petey’s Marina, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, Camp Mack, Patona Bay Marina & Resort, and the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams at Grace College.
For more information on educational rafting opportunities, contact Darci Zolman at the Kosciusko County SWCD at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-267-7445 x3.
If you would like to volunteer to drive your pontoon boat or lead a raft next year, please contact Lyn Crighton at email@example.com or 574-834-3242.