River trip teaches about history, environment

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — With their life jackets strapped tight, sixth-graders from Faith Christian School rowed their rafts down the Wabash River on Tuesday as part of a pilot river education initiative.

While paddling from Mascouten Park to Fort Ouiatenon, 40 students and dozens of volunteers learned the history of Indiana's most famous river, the animals who call it home and what they can do to keep it clean.

The inaugural program was put on by the Tippecanoe County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Tippecanoe County Parks & Recreation Department and the Tippecanoe County Partnership for Water Quality.

"We're hoping to make this a weeklong thing, invite many different schools to come and accommodate a lot of classes," Johanna Brown, water quality educator for the Partnership for Water Quality, told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/XC6msn ).

Students began the morning by learning about their local watershed. Angie Miller, rural conservationist with the Soil and Water Conservation District, taught students how farming, acid rain and pollution affect the river's cleanliness. Because the Wabash feeds into the Ohio River, Mississippi River and ultimately the ocean, what people do upstream affects the neighbors downstream, she said.

"It makes you think about how many things go into the water that shouldn't be there," student Josie Hume said.

While students snapped pictures with disposable cameras and took notes for a quiz at the end of the day, Avery Roswarski pointed out areas of the shoreline that had eroded— something she learned about in science class.

After a two-hour trip downstream, students divided into two groups. While one group learned about fish, the other tested water samples collected along the way.

The modern-day voyagers saw common carp, walleye, gar and a few other native fish — a sample of the nearly 160 species that live in the Wabash watershed.

Water samples were tested for temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, transparency and pH, all of which are indicators about the environment and how healthy the river is. Despite its reputation as a dirty river, the Wabash's water quality has greatly improved over the past half-century, Brown said. It's an overabundance of unicellular algae that give the river its brownish color.

After a long day of paddling and outdoor education, river guides said their students seemed to enjoy themselves. Many students commented that the trip was more than they expected.

"There's more than TV to enjoy, that's what I want them to take away from this," said Matt Tholen, Indiana conservation officer and a volunteer on the trip. "That's my biggest thing. This got them outside, on the river, learning."


Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

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