“We borrowed these fish for science and now we’re going to say thank you,” Megan Pike said to her group of 13 Kenai Watershed Forum campers as she released fish back into Soldotna Creek on Tuesday.
“We love you buddy!” one of the children said from the back of the group.
The kids, ages 6 to 8, were studying fish alongside the Kenai River on their second day of the Watershed Forum’s Novice Naturalist Camp.
Pike, the education specialist at the Watershed Forum, said Tuesday that she enjoys working with the 6 to 8 age group because of their natural curiosity and because some of the campers haven’t spent extended periods of time on the Kenai River.
“This age group is so full of wonder,” she said.
After the kids pulled on their mud boots Tuesday, they lined up to hike down from the Watershed Forum yurt to Soldotna Creek, chanting repeat-after-me songs until they got to the water. In the creek were the fish traps that had been previously set, and the kids got to see live smolt coho and Chinook and stickleback.
The kids, with help from Pike and other camp leaders at the Watershed Forum, were able to apply their classroom skills to the field Tuesday, to correctly identify the different species of fish they caught. Back in the yurt, the kids drew the baby fish in their journals.
This is the Watershed Forum’s first full year back with camp since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Pike said she’s excited for the kids to have normal summer programming. She said some formative outdoor conservation experiences such as these stick with the kids for a long time.
“They grow an affinity for nature,” she said.
Not only do they become enchanted by the river, Pike said, but they also gain more of an understanding of their ecosystem as a whole. One camper said their favorite part of Day One was releasing the bugs they studied back into nature so the salmon could eat.
“That’s a big picture for a 6-year-old,” Pike said.
The first Novice Naturalist Camp runs through Friday. The next four weeklong camps are full and run from July 6 through July 29.
There will also be a pop-up tree planting day camp for kids ages 6 to 11 on June 28.