On the first day of Idaho’s Water Awareness Week, two dozen sixth-graders spent Monday morning tramping along the shores of Chatcolet Lake.
After a taste of wild rice grown in the soggy habitat and a lecture on the virtues of wetlands, the Lakes Middle School students adjusted their knapsacks and followed AmeriCorps worker Lisa Kirchhoffer along a trail carpeted with pine needles.
“Let’s find those goslings,” was Kirchhoffer’s rallying cry.
She found ample opportunities to stop, sound her duck call to silence the energetic hikers, and point out waterfowl among the cattails and canals.
Students fished rocks out of their shoes, ventured onto the mudflats and peered through binoculars at mallards and osprey.
“I see a wood duck. Cool,” said student Whitney Nelson, who moments earlier learned how to identify the bird.
Teacher Bill Turbin loaned out his own small collection of binoculars, but admitted being hesitant to do so.
“They’re very hyper today,” he observed as the class ran down the trail ahead of him.
Despite the logistical difficulty of keeping 23 pre-teens under control, Turbin said the field trip was worthwhile.
“I definitely feel they will benefit from this,” he said.
More than 500 students in Kootenai County are expected to participate in the Water Awareness Week activities, coordinated by Idaho’s Division of Environmental Quality.
Fourteen public and private groups are sponsoring events in cooperation with five school districts. Last year Water Awareness Week was confined to the Boise area, but this year it spread north.
“It’s a good way to get students to think about water and how important it is in their lives,” said Anne Pressentin of the Division of Environmental Quality.
In the drier Boise area, the focus has been on water quantity. In Kootenai County, the concern centers on water quality, Pressentin said. Next year, the coalition hopes to take the program to Lewiston.
Other field trips this week will feature Post Falls Dam, the Coeur d’Alene wastewater treatment plant and Farragut State Park. Water Awareness Week sponsors also provided instructional materials to teachers on the hydrologic cycle, water quality for fish, water conservation and other topics.
“It sets a tone where we can specialize a little,” Turbin said of the program. “We don’t normally get into this much detail.”