Educational programs promote stewardship

During the last week in August, eighteen middle school-aged kids joined the Snake River Fund and Teton County Parks and Recreation for the action-packed Snake River Days watershed camp.

The camp was one of three educational programs put on by the Fund this year. In September, nearly every fifth-grader in Teton County got a chance to float the Snake and learn about river ecology, while in June, Summit on the Snake continued to inform and inspire guides and casual river enthusiasts.

Throughout the course of the river camp, kids learned about aquatic insects and stream health by investigating Ditch Creek with staff from the Teton Science Schools; learned about stream and river dynamics, including gradient, volume, eddies and currents, by racing miniature “boats” that they designed and constructed; and paddled around Slide Lake in canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, kindly donated by Rendezvous River Sports for two days. They also checked out a HUGE beaver lodge.

From there, they investigated Jackson Lake Dam and how it affects the Snake River, and delighted in paddling kayaks, canoes and SUPs from the dam through the Oxbow Bend down to Pacific Creek. Along the way, they observed a cow and yearling moose feeding in the river.

Mid-week, it was on to the Murie Center for an all-day introduction to fly fishing with volunteers from Trout Unlimited. Not only did the kids fish along the river, but they also got to explore the Murie Homestead and see a mother black bear and her cub foraging on hawthorn berries.

The next day, campers floated with Mad River Boat Trips from the Wilson Bridge to A.J. DeRosa’s riverside tipi camp for an overnight experience. For their service project, the kids learned about invasive plants from Amy Jerup with Teton County Weed and Pest and pulled every noticeable weed in the vicinity.

The rest of the day was spent swimming and playing in the water. After dinner and a birthday cake baked in a Dutch oven, nighttime brought roasting marshmallows and lots of storytelling and games. Six of the eight girls slept in hammocks, while everyone else was out under the stars.

For the final day, we packed up, loaded back on Mad River rafts and floated to South Park, where we then got outfitted with wetsuits and headed (again with Mad River, which donated all boats and guides for two days) to paddle the whitewater section in the Snake canyon. What an amazing week for everyone involved!

Fifth-Grade Float Trips again proved to be a popular program, as more than 200 elementary school students got a hands-on lesson in hydrology, ecology and safety.

Thirteen classes from all schools in Teton County participated, except one class from Wilson (canceled by weather) that will have an opportunity this spring. The field trip, essentially a floating classroom, dovetails with the fifth-grade science curriculum, as the students also spend a night at Teton Science Schools. With the help of Fund staff and volunteers, the kids learn about riparian vegetation, watersheds, geography, mammals and river dynamics.

Students from Mrs. Kitto’s class in Wilson wrote poems about their experience. Will Walker wrote, “Life is like a river / It flows by fast / Living it is like tubing / You sit back and enjoy the ride.”

The Little Horsethief Fire was visible from the river, which made for some educational conversations on fire. There were lots of bald eagle sightings; one class saw 18 birds, including juveniles and adults. All classes saw at least 10 bald eagles.

All of the floats stopped at DeRosa’s camp for lunch, where the kids got to observe a beaver dam, cut willows and other signs of beaver activity. For many of the kids, this was their first opportunity to float the Snake.

The students floated from Wilson to South Park. Boats and guides were donated by Barker-Ewing, Lewis and Clark, Mad River, Dave Hansen and Jackson Hole Whitewater. Helping SRF board members and staff with interpretation were Angela York from Teton County Parks and Rec, Mary and David Cernicek of Bridger-Teton National Forest, Amy Jerup of Teton County Weed and Pest, Roger Smith of 3 Creek Ranch and Teton Raptor Center, Margie Reimers, and Mark Gocke from Wyoming Game and Fish.

The Fund’s educational offerings extended to adults, too. The 14th annual Summit on the Snake drew roughly 100 participants to Teton Science Schools’ Jackson campus for a daylong symposium on various aspects of river ecology and natural history. Longtime outfitter Wayne Johnson gave an overview of early attempts of navigating the Snake, which was one of the day’s highlights.

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Other presentations covered Yellowstone Lake and Flat Creek, risk management, and in-depth looks at beavers and raptors. Even the most experienced guides and river enthusiasts came away having learned something new. We’ll keep you posted as soon as the Fund sets a date for the 15th annual Summit this spring.


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