Outdoor Adventure + Exploration with Water Rocks! Camps

Today’s guest blog post comes from summer intern Elizabeth Schwab. Originally from Levittown, PA (just outside Philadelphia), Elizabeth is a senior at ISU, double majoring in Environmental Science and Agronomy. She is also a radio DJ at 88.5 FM KURE on the side!

Monday, June 26, we held our first of a series of three Water Rocks! Summer Day Camps, this one in the beautiful Winterset City Park in Madison County. I saw my first of the famed Madison County covered bridges (the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge) on the drive to the shelter where we set up camp, but unfortunately the bridge didn’t appear to be designed to handle the fifteen-passenger van we were traveling in. I’ll have to return to Madison County to tour the covered bridges some other time.

After organizing our supplies and activities, we were ready to begin our day; shortly thereafter, the campers began to arrive. The 23 campers, ages nine to fourteen, were organized into two packs, each led by two Water Rocks! team members. My fellow intern Andrew and I spent our day with the blue pack, who soon named themselves the “Blue Ferrets,” while Jenn and Josh led the red pack.

We kicked off the morning with some music and dancing led by Todd. I’m not much of a dancer, as anyone who saw me “on stage” on Monday morning can confirm. However, I was excited that some of the more exuberant campers soon joined our staff up front to show off their moves (and prove that they have much more talent than I do). This was a great high-energy start to the day! After we were all welcomed to camp, we split up into our packs for some icebreakers and time to get to know each other, and then we were able to dive into the lessons!

One of my favorite aspects of the educational modules that the Water Rocks! team presents is that they make education a lot of fun, both for the presenters and the audience. For the first part of the morning, Jenn and I led each pack through sessions on wetlands, which involved playing such games as Habitat Hopscotch and Wetland Bingo.

Throughout the day, campers also learned about watersheds, contemplated biodiversity (while playing Biodiversity Jenga and Musical Oxbows), and participated in a “game show” with our Dig Into Soil module! In times like these, I sometimes wish to be an observer rather than a presenter at our outreach events. I have learned, however, that leading students or campers through these activities is just as fun, even if it means that I can’t win prizes in Wetland Bingo or develop my own piece of lakeside property during the Watershed module.

What better way is there to reflect on why we should conserve and appreciate our water resources than by playing a few water games? After lunch and a quick trip to the playground, the packs competed against each other to play a few games, with bucket relays and water balloons proving to be the stars of the show. It just wouldn’t be summer camp without water sports, and these activities were certainly a memorable part of the camp experience!

It was a busy day in Winterset, and by the end of the camp day everyone was ready to take things a little more slowly. We ended our day by making “edible soil” to complement the afternoon’s lesson about soil, and then spent some time reflecting and writing in the nature journals that we created during arts and crafts time earlier in the day. This was a great way to wrap up our day—I’m excited about nearly any opportunity that involves either chocolate pudding or crafts, and being able to tie both of these to other topics that I’m passionate about was an added bonus.

As the campers departed at the end of the day, many of them expressed interest in returning for future events or camps. I am proud to have been a part of making this day memorable for so many young people, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return to our next two Water Rocks! camps in Des Moines on July 6 and 7. Every time I go to an event or camp I discover something new about communicating scientific information in a way that is engaging to the audience as well as to me as an educator. And I get to have fun doing it! There really is no better way to learn.

Elizabeth Schwab

NOTE: Limited spots are still available for 9-14 year olds in our upcoming Water Rocks! Summer Day Camps at Greenwood Park in Des Moines – choose from Thursday, July 6 or Friday, July 7!  Do you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or neighbor that might be interested?  Camps are FREE of charge; we just require registration in advance. Registrations are being accepted through NOON tomorrow – Friday, June 30.

Go Take a Hike!

This coming Sunday, January 1, is the perfect opportunity to get outside and go take a hike … literally! Start the new year outdoors taking in the scenery, the winter wildlife, and the crisp, cool fresh air with a guided hike in one of Iowa’s state parks. New Year’s Day 2017 marks the sixth annual celebration of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes initiative, encouraging all of us to get outside and explore the wonderful parks around us in a wintery setting.

Twenty-five different parks across the state of Iowa will be hosting free guided First Day Hikes this year on January 1, 2017. The DNR’s First Day Hikes webpage provides further details including times and meeting locations for each of the hikes. The guided hikes are typically 1-2 miles in length.

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Iowa’s many state parks, recreation areas, and forests are true gems – offering an abundance of outdoor activities ranging from camping to canoeing, fishing, swimming, wildlife, and hiking galore (my personal favorite!). I love how these natural areas showcase Iowa’s changing beauty with the changing seasons of the year.

So gather your family, your friends, and/or your dog for a New Year’s Day outdoor adventure … and go take a hike!

Ann Staudt

A Wetlands Walk with Charlie

This morning, the sun woke me early and so I jumped out of bed, got dressed and called out to my dog.

“It’s National Wetlands Month, Charlie! Let’s go to the lake!”

Charlie did his slow morning stretch, slanted his head to one side and looked at me.

“The lake!,” I repeated, and then grabbed my car keys and jingled them at him. While he doesn’t really know the word lake, he understands that car keys in the morning mean a trip to the lake. His tail began a wagging and he waited impatiently for me to grab his leash and get into the car.

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Ada Hayden Lake is the reserve water supply for the City of Ames. It is a smallish lake that has several adjacent wetlands and prairies. This year, I made a pledge to myself to try to walk out there once a week all year regardless of the weather. It is always beautiful there, whether it is covered with ice and snow or a beautiful spring day like today.

I took my camera with me because I knew I wanted to blog about wetlands. I also knew that photographs and sounds would tell the story better than I can with words.

The walk was amazing and the sights and sounds were balms to my soul. April had been one of those months where I always felt about three paces behind where I needed to be. This morning it was good to take a leisurely walk with Charlie to just enjoy the moment. Charlie loves it when I am not in a hurry because I allow him to stop, smell, touch and sometimes pursue.

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As we were walking around the lake, I was thinking about how amazing wetlands are and how important they are for so many reasons. The three most important functions of prairie wetlands are waterfowl habitat, nutrient removal and flood control. In Iowa, wetlands are particularly important for the Des Moines Lobe area where pre-settlement there were 3.5 million acres of wetlands. By the 1970s, we were down to 30,000 acres. Today, there are anywhere from 94,000 to 143,000 acres of wetlands in the Des Moines Lobe.

So, we are making progress, slowly, but still progress. A few of the impacts of the loss of wetlands in this part of Iowa has been the loss of wildlife, especially waterfowl, and the decline in lake and river water quality due to nonpoint source pollution (see Wetland Restoration in Iowa: Challenges and Opportunities for more details).

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Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy suggests that we would need 7,600 nutrient reduction wetlands in the Des Moines Lobe if we want to see water quality improvements. Currently, there are less than 100 of these wetlands in the region. How are we going to get there? It will take a change of mind, heart and reallocation of resources like we haven’t seen for a really long time in Iowa. Where do we start?

Pope Francis, in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, suggests that the first step to this kind of change is contemplation. You don’t need to be Catholic or even religious to practice contemplation. In the simplest terms, contemplation means to listen. In listening, you come to see. In seeing you come to know. In knowing, you come to care.

Care suggests passion, love and commitment.

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How do we implement Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy? Maybe the process would be quickened if more people entered into dialogue with nature. It is a huge change that is being asked of the people in our state. Can we stop and listen, pay attention and be aware? Can we care?

Nothing will change if we don’t.

I am not saying that I have all the answers. Or that I am doing everything I can to be a part of the solution. I am saying that I felt hopeful after this morning’s walk. I also felt confident that if we can bring wetlands back, they would do their part to care for the Earth and all the creatures who call wetlands home.

It’s National Wetlands Month. Do you know where a wetland is?

Wetlands (and lake, rivers, etc), should come with a warning label:
Caution! Sitting here could change your life.

Jacqueline Comito

Barbara and Stanley Johnson feature

KMA radio, out of Shenandoah, Iowa, went to Barbara and Stanley Johnson’s farm and interviewed the couple about their land philosophy and what they have done with their acres for sustainability and conservation. The interview is a video (even though it came from a radio station). Thanks to the Johnsons for your commitment to building a culture of conservation!

Stan_Barbara_Johnson_video_screencaptureClick on the arrow button above to read their story and view the video.

Field Day Highlights Grassland Management

Grassland management–improving habitat for grazing cattle and wildlife (birds and insects) was the theme of a June 23 field day co-sponsored by Iowa Learning Farms and the multi-state Restoration Ecology in Working Landscape project (http://www.nrem.iastate.edu/research/patchburn/index.html).

Project personnel from Iowa State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Illinois-Champaign led a pasture walk on a Saturday morning that was unusually cool, cloudy, and drizzly.  Local landowners and cattle producers learned about bird-grassland relationships from University of Illinois graduate student Tim Lyons; meanwhile, Oklahoma State University graduate student Derek Scasta deftly identified grass and forb species thriving in the patch-burn grazing management system used at the site near Kellerton in Ringgold County.

Ringgold County,  which borders Missouri in south-central Iowa, has a long tradition of thriving grasslands and pastures supporting cow-calf herds.  South-central Iowa’s landscape is well-suited to grassland habitat, and the Restoration Ecology in Working Landscape project highlights the interwoven benefits of working grasslands, thriving farms and small towns, and biodiversity of plants, birds, and insects.

-John

Soil & Water Conservation Week: April 29-May 6

Next week the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) will celebrate Soil and Water Conservation Week. They are hosting several Iowa events, joining in National Stewardship Week, sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts. This year’s theme is “Soil to Spoon.”

Read the press release.

The Conservation Station will be in Des Moines on Monday, April 30 to participate in the Ice Cream Social and Food Bank of Iowa Fundraiser. The event is on the West Terrace of the capitol building from 11:00 am.-1:00 pm.

From the IDALS website: “Bring your own bowl to this ice cream social to benefit the Food Bank of Iowa, and participate in hands-on natural resource demonstrations as we kickstart the week! On-site will be the Iowa Learning Farms Conservation Station demonstrating the effects of rainfall on undisturbed soils with a variety of soil covers and impervious and porous surfaces; a stream table to shows how sediment, vegetation, and flowing water interact in a dynamic stream system; and a ground water flow model demonstration.”

Other Iowa events this week:

Tuesday, May 1
Rathbun Watershed Field Day
5:30 pm, Kevin and Lori Luedtke Farm, 44935 270th Avenue, Chariton, IA 50049

Come out to this working farm and see what soil and water conservation in the rural landscape is all about. The Luedtke farm will provide a scenic backdrop as you hear from Rathbun Lake Protectors about their work in the watershed. Over 354,000 acres across six southern Iowa counties drain into the Rathbun Lake. The lake itself is 11,000 acres and provides drinking water to approximately 80,000 people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri as the primary source of water for the Rathbun Regional Water Association.

Thursday, May 3
Downtown Des Moines Urban Conservation Tour
1:00-3:00 pm, Starting at the Iowa Utilities Board, 1375 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319

Ever wonder what urban conservation is all about? Join us on this tour that will feature urban conservation at three different properties in Des Moines. Bioretention cells, native landscaping, permeable paving, rain gardens, and a green roof – all in your capitol city. The tour will begin at the Iowa Utilities Board building, before moving on to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and finally, Green and Main. Hosted by the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District.

Friday, May 4
Scott County Urban Conservation Showcase
2:00-3:30 pm, Daveport Public Works, 1200 East 46th Street, Davenport, IA

The Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Partners of Scott County Watersheds will showcase how urban conservation practices have been implemented within the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. See a demonstration of bioretention cells, which are utilized for capture and infiltration of stormwater runoff.

Next week (or every week!) at your dinner table, pause to appreciate the water and soil (and people) that grew your meal.

-ILF