Earth Day is Thursday, April 22 and Water Rocks! has partnered with the Soil and Water Conservation Society and Artworks Studio for our second annual Earth Week Chalk Challenge! We want to encourage Iowans of all ages to get outside and enjoy nature, while celebrating Earth Week by creating chalk drawings! Entries can be submitted by an individual artist or a team (new for 2021!)—we encourage classes, 4-H clubs, families, and anyone else who wants to work together, to submit a team entry.
Winners will be selected based on a blind judging of entries and through People’s Choice awards (based on Facebook voting), and Water Rocks! prize packs will be mailed out after the contest ends.
The contest is open NOW through April 25, visit waterrocks.org/chalk-challenge for complete contest rules and to submit your entry. Be sure to like or follow @WaterRocksISU on Facebook or Twitter – voting for the People’s Choice awards will take place on Facebook April 26-29!
Comito explored the importance of nature, awe, and gratitude to human health, including emotional well-being, and sense of space. She explained how experiencing awe can lead to “paradigm-shifting discoveries and new technologies” and examined the relationship between awe, gratitude, and environmentalism.
During the webinar, Comito will discuss the ways that we might integrate the tools of awe and gratitude into our environmental work when it seems like real change is eluding us.
“When we look at the environmental crises we are facing, it is clear that our bodies, minds, and souls are more disintegrated with the natural world than more fully integrated. The transformation we need is to reverse that. How do we do it?” asks Comito.
To learn more about the science of awe and gratitude and how they can be used as tools to improve the environment, tune in to this unique webinar on November 25!
Webinar Access Instructions
To participate in the live webinar, shortly before 12 pm CST on November 25:
Unique guides to county parks and wildlife areas across Iowa provide families and youth with a roadmap to learning and exploration outdoors and close to home
Water Rocks! has launched its County Park Adventure Series, providing activity guides and outdoor adventure suggestions at county parks and wildlife areas throughout Iowa. Covering one park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, the adventure series guides offer detailed information about each park including amenities and suggested age-appropriate family and youth activities to aid in exploring the natural world in each location.
During 2020, Iowa’s state parks have seen record attendance due to both the centennial celebration of Iowa State Parks and the shutdown of many recreational sites and activities. This project was intentionally focused on county parks to encourage folks to learn about and explore nature’s beauty at these lesser-known, less-visited destinations while maintaining physical distancing without the crowds seen at state parks.
“After spring school closures and a summer of isolation, many families are feeling stifled and cooped up, and as winter approaches, we are excited to help them take advantage of local outdoor destinations that can be enjoyed year-round,” said Jacqueline Comito, executive director of Water Rocks!. “Every season offers adventure and natural beauty in Iowa. Whether identifying animal tracks in the snow, hunting for the first signs of spring, or enjoying fall colors, these less-traveled parks are a great resource for all of us. With a guide to a local park in hand, visitors can explore and learn together while enjoying the outdoors – and escaping the indoors.”
Containing park-specific family friendly activities, each original activity guide offers families and youth fun ways to learn about their environment while enjoying the beauty of Iowa’s parks and recreational areas. Visit the Water Rocks! website’s County Park Adventure Series page to select a county and download an activity guide.
During the summer of 2020, the Water Rocks! summer interns imagined, created, and developed the county park adventure project. Fanning out across the state, they explored and developed unique activities for each park they visited. According to intern Riley Wilgenbusch, “While reaching all 99 counties was challenging, getting out across the state gave us all a huge opportunity to see and learn about Iowa’s different landscapes and ecosystems. And we are all very proud that the resulting series of guides are a great asset for those interested in exploring parks near and far.”
“This project came about as we responded to the sudden closures and restrictions related to COVID-19, but we are delighted with the guides and hope they can be a resource for Iowans for many years,” said Comito. “This is one of those situations where a sudden disruption to our summer plans resulted in an unexpected, yet beneficial, outcome. Our interns discovered many of Iowa’s hidden gems and we will all benefit from their adventures.”
2020 feels like a metamorphosis year on so many fronts.
As I reflect on how our Water Rocks! youth education program has adapted/ pivoted/ reinvented itself (choose your buzzword), the idea of a metamorphosis seems most appropriate. Our program is centered on teaching youth about water, soil, biodiversity, and other environmental science concepts, so viewing this transformation from a biological sciences perspective just seems like a natural fit.
Those of you that know me well know I’m a pretty simple person. But occasionally I’ll have these random deep thoughts, like:
What does a caterpillar’s transformation to a butterfly really feel like?
Does it hurt?
Is it true they actually have to eat and digest themselves to kickstart the chrysalis stage of the process?
For Water Rocks!, this time of metamorphosis has meant transforming our youth outreach program from one centered on in-person, face-to-face interactive presentations and music assemblies in schools across the state, to something suddenly and completely different. We are creatures of habit. Change is hard. (See questions above: What does the caterpillar’s transformation feel like? Does it hurt?). However, in reality, the building blocks were primed and in place for Water Rocks! to adapt, survive, and thrive …
For years now, our Water Rocks! team has been writing music, producing videos, developing enhanced learning activities for teachers, and delivering science-based content in creative, out-of-the box ways … that’s just how we do business! This is what ultimately equipped us to quickly transition our offerings to meet the unique needs of students, teachers, and parents during the rapid spread of COVID-19. Despite a global pandemic, natural resources, water quality, and environmental education are too important to just put on hold or set aside.
We are thrilled to have now developed a full “menu” of offerings with Water Rocks!, ranging from outdoor school presentations while the weather permits this fall, to a brand new, puppet show-inspired video series poised to launch later this month. Read on for a glimpse into the unique and multifaceted approaches Water Rocks! is taking to connect with students and teachers across the state, engaging them on timely natural resources topics.
Outdoor School Presentations
Equipped with tables, chairs, face coverings, hand sanitizer, wireless microphones, and a full PA system, the Water Rocks! team now loads up its Conservation Station trailer 3-4 times per week to hit the road for OUTDOOR school presentations! We’ve completely retooled our signature indoor school presentations and assemblies from the ground up to align with physical distancing standards and to ensure a safe outdoor educational experience for everyone involved. Students may learn about watersheds through humorous songs, skits, and raps, or they may discover the plight of pollinators as they compete in the Monarch Migration Madness game. K-8 students are loving the interactive and outdoor aspects of these Water Rocks! presentations—something refreshing and completely different during school days that are heavy in screen time.
Virtual School Presentations
Just as pollinators are journeying south, the Water Rocks! team will soon be migrating, too—indoors. We are excited to offer our brand new Water Rocks! Live Streaming virtual school presentations beginning November 17! Designed as a hybrid news broadcast/variety show, these presentations will originate from the ISU campus, from our “WR! news studio” set, while also providing the opportunity for students to see conservation practices out on the landscape through “field reporter”-style interviews (e.g. students will “visit” Iowa wetlands, even in the dead of winter, via video footage captured in the field during the fall months). Water Rocks! virtual school presentations will be coordinated with one teacher and classroom of K-8 students at a time to maximize opportunities for (virtual) interaction and to customize the presentation to the local geography and water quality issues.
Entertaining + Educational Videos
What do you get when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood meets Water Rocks!? = HARMONY BROOK WATERSHED!. Launching yet this month, Harmony Brook Watershed is an original, puppet-show based video series designed to teach elementary school students all about natural resources and the environment around them, featuring characters that are all native Iowa species: Fox, Frog, Owl, and Leo (short for Lepidoptera –> swallowtail butterfly). Each 3-5 minute episode is filled with moments of laughter, learning, and appreciation of the surrounding natural world. Stay tuned to our YouTube channel so you’re ready for the debut of this new series! While you’re on our YouTube page, check out two other series that we’ve launched in recent months: WR! Out-of-the Box and WR! Unplugged—50 episodes between these two series!
Contests and Challenges
Water Rocks! is all about encouraging Iowans of all ages to get outside and experience the amazing natural resources around them. One of the fun ways we’ve done that is through a series of contests and challenges! Our Fall Colors Found Art Contest is open now through October 19—get out for a walk, collect interesting nature items (leaves, rocks, feathers, twigs, pinecones, etc.), and arrange them into an artistic masterpiece! The contest features both youth and adult categories, with prizes awarded in each group. Previous Water Rocks! challenges have included Earth Week Chalk Challenge, Earth Week Found Art, and the TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge.
As this year of metamorphosis continues to unfold, stay tuned to the Water Rocks! website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on our virtual school presentations, video releases, upcoming contests, and more WR! goodness.
Participants will create works of art from natural items they find in the great outdoors. The contest is open now through October 19 and features adult and youth entry groups. For complete contest rules and to upload a photo of your artistic creation, visit waterrocks.org/fall-colors.
Online voting through the Water Rocks! Facebook page for the People’s Choice winner in each age category and consideration by a judging panel will take place October 20-22. Winners will be announced October 23!
We have lots of fabulous prizes to give away, so get outside, appreciate the beauty of nature, and create your found art masterpiece today!
Enjoy the summer weather and appreciate the trees around you during the Water Rocks! “TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge”! The challenge, which will run August 3 through 17, invites Iowans to get outside and discover the trees that grow across the state by snapping pictures of themselves with as many varieties of trees as they can.
We have awesome prize packs available, based on the number of different trees you find! Prize packs will be awarded to those who successfully complete the challenge, while supplies last!
The TREE-mendous Iowa Tree Challenge is being produced in partnership with the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa’s largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition and dedicated to education and advocacy and working together to protect and preserve Iowa’s environment.
We can’t wait to see your tree photos—be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (@waterrocksisu) to see our favorite submissions!
Today’s guest blog post was written by Steve Hopkins, Nonpoint Source Coordinator, Iowa DNR Watershed Improvement Section.
The first Earth Day, which took place on April 22, 1970—50 years ago—sparked the creation of environmental policies and programs that helped clean up parts of the environment not only across the U.S., but also here in Iowa.
The first Earth Day, founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, followed by the passage of the Clean Air Act that year, the Clean Water Act in 1972, and years later—in 1987—Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, a new program to provide funding and technical assistance to address nonpoint source pollution in the U.S. to help clean up rivers, lakes, and streams.
Iowa has actively participated in the Section 319 program. Since 1990, the Iowa DNR Watershed Improvement program has funded over 600 local, regional, and statewide clean water projects (mostly watershed projects) totaling over $100 million, through the EPA’s Section 319 grant program. Currently, the DNR provides $1.8 million annually to locally-led watershed projects to restore lakes, streams, and river segments in Iowa.
When the Section 319 program was created, I was completing my master’s degree in Land Resources at the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, named in honor of the founder of Earth Day.
Although I can thank many people for teaching me about nature and the environment—including my professors and fellow students at Wisconsin—among the first were my paternal grandparents, Claude and Bernice Hopkins.
At the time of the first Earth Day, I was an 8-year-old boy who loved to visit Grandpa and Grandma Hopkins at their pasture-based cattle farm in northwest Missouri, only a three hour drive from our home in Atlantic, Iowa. Grandpa loved working with and observing cattle, which he had done his entire life, and he was in fact the 1935 national collegiate dairy judging champion, while competing with the Iowa State College Dairy Judging Team.
Grandma loved animals, too, but also so much more. She not only helped Grandpa with livestock chores, she also kept a large garden of healthy vegetables and beautiful flowers, and she cooked delicious meals every day. She had studied home economics and horticulture at Iowa State, and she put her knowledge to practical use on the farm.
What I remember most about her, though, was how she loved birds. She would listen carefully to bird calls on the farm, and she had an old 78 record of bird calls that she listened to so she could learn bird calls better. She also could whistle the call of bobwhites so accurately that they would respond by calling back to her. And, in describing the musical call of meadowlarks, which sang from the tops of the many fence posts on their farm, she would say joyfully, “It sounds like they’re singing ‘Gee whiz, my feet are cold!’”
Grandma Hopkins would never have called herself an environmentalist. Yet she helped instill in me at an early age an awareness and appreciation for nature that has been a part of me all of my life, even long after her passing from this Earth.
On a recent visit to a watershed project here in Iowa, I heard the familiar and welcoming call of a meadowlark, singing “Gee whiz, my feet are cold!” I thank Grandma for helping me hear that call, and for helping me find my calling.
These contests run until 5 pm Friday, April 24th. Get outside and show off your love for our planet and its natural resources, as well as your creativity!
Like or follow @WaterRocksISU on Facebook or Twitter to enter your art and see all of the other creations!
Fun and novel prizes from Water Rocks! and Artworks Studio will be awarded to creations garnering the most likes and shares in both challenges, including a special “People’s Choice” prize pack and bragging rights for the most shared and most liked entry in each contest.