Stream Days Naturalist's Notebook

Bryant Creek Stream Days
-- from a Master Naturalist's Notebook
by Sheila Wood Foard

Stream Day finally arrived! The weather was perfect. A sunny, autumn day meant that spending the day outdoors would be a luxury. Eager to get to Bryant Creek, my husband Bob and I donned comfortable clothing, sturdy shoes, and sunscreen. As retired high school science and English teachers, newly trained Master Naturalists, and volunteers for the day, we would watch students from several area schools (Gainesville, Dora, and Willow Springs) participate in a creek-side, hands-on science class. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose. We like being around kids!

When we arrived at historic Hodgson Mill, we parked our Jeep near one of the school buses and joined in the fun. (Teachers know that learning can be fun!) The students had divided into four groups and were already on task. My husband took his video camera from group to group and captured the day on film.

I stood behind a group of seventh graders, who were crowded around the stream table for the Stream Table Activity. We all listened to MDC's Stream Team Coordinator for the Ozarks, Bob Schulz, demonstrate how erosion changes the landscape when the vegetation around a stream is removed. The students answered all his questions and asked some of their own. They exhibited an understanding of such important terms as flood plain, watershed, riffles, pools, deposition, sediment, erosion, and channelizing. They understood that clear-cutting causes erosion, that channelizing creates an unstable situation, and that pollution can be prevented. The interest they showed in the demonstration indicated they would do their part in stopping pollution in their streams.

When that hour-long session ended, the groups rotated. I watched MDC's Dave Mayers demonstrate how to collect a water sample from the spring and test for dissolved oxygen in the Biomonitoring Activity. The students definitely enjoyed doing chemistry. They showed their expertise in using test kits. They had done this before in the lab. Now they were real scientists in the field. They knew that stream life depends on dissolved oxygen in the water. They learned that the amount of dissolved oxygen varies, depending, in part, on where they run the test. If they take water samples close to the spring, there is less dissolved oxygen than if they take water samples farther downstream. After they recorded their data in their activities booklet, they watched Mayers demonstrate a model of how karst topography works. They saw how streams are affected when trash is dumped in a sinkhole or when herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are used improperly.

The third session I watched was the Macroinvertebrates Activity, led by MDC's Mary Palmer and volunteer Master Naturalist Pat Hight. I’ve had stream team training, and I enjoyed standing on the creek bank while the students collected and identified stream-bottom macroinvertebrates to test the water quality of the creek. Both boys and girls waded into the water, used their kick nets, and carried their catch to the bank. No one seemed a bit squeamish about placing the bugs in ice trays, identifying and counting them, and recording their findings. The bugs that seemed to get the most attention were the crayfish, a.k.a crawdads. But one big hellgramite received more than its fair share of stares. Students discussed the diversity in the stream, knowing that the greater the diversity, the better the water quality. Another concept, which didn’t get past them, was that finding a hellgrammite along with other bugs in the sensitive category means the stream is healthy. Crayfish, by the way, are in the somewhat sensitive category while aquatic worms and leeches are in the tolerant category. The bug collection was returned to the creek, and the students rotated to the last activity.

The Stream Corridor Activity, led by MDC's Melanie Carden-Jensen, sent students on a scavenger hunt along both sides of the creek bank.
Here’s what they found: Animal tracks, insects, trees, shrubs, scat (always an interesting find) animal remains, and drink cans (partially burned in a campfire).
Here's what they concluded:
 • Stream banks are habitats; they are homes to animals.
 • Clear cutting destroys animal homes.
The campfire ashes, burned cans, and fish carcasses had been left by a group of giggers the previous night. The students concluded that these fishermen should have cleaned up their site before they left. Humans can impact the water quality of streams in a more positive way than the evidence indicated those particular giggers had. Some students speculated that the giggers had dumped their cooking oil right there on the stream bank, instead of taking it with them, as they should have done.

Stream Day was a two-day event. The activities were repeated the second day with a different group of students. The Dora High School Stream Team (in photo at left, lounging in the Hodgson Mill spring branch) served as volunteer aides at each activity station during the second day. These student trainers learned the lessons on the first day and then demonstrated their ability to lead their peers on the next day.

My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the outing. Both of us concluded that these students will have a positive impact on the future of area streams. I had no doubt of this when I read the poems they wrote after they returned to school. Here’s what two of them concluded:

We learned about the creek
And how dirty water makes bugs weak.

--Dalton Lok

Water affects us even if we’re miles away.
So help the critters start fighting today.

--Bonnie Hogue

Even this writer could not have said it in a more memorable way!
-- Sheila Wood Foard
Master Naturalist
September 2004

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