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Cherry Creek sits nestled within the Winona Lake Trails, which is a popular area for dog walking. When people don’t pick up their pets’ waste, it enters Cherry Creek and pollutes the water with bacteria and other harmful pathogens. Volunteers for The Watershed Foundation tested the water at Cherry Creek during Snapshot Water Monitoring Day last fall and found very high levels of E. coli, which is an indicator of fecal pollution.
Cherry Creek is also a popular outdoor classroom for local students. With the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Darci Zolman brings Jefferson Elementary School students to Cherry Creek twice a year to conduct water testing and monitoring. Zolman, armed with additional data from The Watershed Foundation, provided the students with extra programming on E. coli.
Jefferson is one of four elementary schools in the Warsaw Community Schools system with extra STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes. Studying water quality is part of their STEM curriculum. Jefferson’s fourth-grade teacher Angela Luecke helped spearhead a school project, which mentored all the fourth and sixth-grade students studying the issue and working toward a solution. The students concluded that pet owners were not picking up pet waste, which ended up being washed into Cherry Creek, causing the E. coli buildup.
Education Prompts Action
The students were armed with knowledge and wanted action. As part of their school project, some of teacher Sandy McClellan’s sixth-grade students made a video and presented it to the Winona Lake Town Council at their May meeting. Sixth-graders Savannah Purdy and Jocelyn Luecke asked for help in eliminating E.coli from Cherry Creek. The children asked the Council to help them educate people who come by Cherry Creek about the need to pick up after their pets. After the May meeting, Town Manager Craig Allebach met with Jefferson students, teachers, and The Watershed Foundation. The council agreed to help.
The Watershed Foundation provided two pet waste stations. Students and staff at Jefferson Elementary and community leaders celebrated their installation at Cherry Creek on July 7th. Zolman told local news outlets that the SWCD has always felt that “teaching our youth is a way to make them more informed citizens when they grow up and hopefully, they stick around in the community.” She said the student’s project was a great way to help those students become more informed students.
The pet waste stations contain bags to collect the waste and a container to dispose of it. The students also posted signs nearby to remind people of ways to care for our local land and water, and brochures alongside to educate the community of the purpose for why we should “Make Haste, Not Waste.”