WVa students learn about the environment at the wildlife center

ALUM CREEK, W.Va. (AP) — Cassidy, 10, a fifth-grade student at Ramage Elementary School in Boone County, is no stranger to crawfish. Her home is near a river, where she and her brothers regularly sift through the water and turn over rocks to find the little creatures.

Once, she says, she found one “so, so big” that she had to put it in a dog carrier because a terrarium was too small.

“Sometimes my papaya doesn’t believe me when I grab something and tell her how big it is, but I swear this one was huge!” Bigger than my hand,” Cassidy said, extending all five fingers of her right hand to show size.

While recently holding a small crayfish in her hand, Cassidy said she’s always been interested in fish, bugs and bugs of all kinds. She joined dozens of other fifth graders from Boone, Lincoln and Kanawha counties at the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center in Alum Creek for The Forks of Coal Water Festival.

The event was sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, with support from the Department of Natural Resources, Youth Environmentalist Program, Forks of Coal Foundation, Master Naturalist Program and others .

Students cycled through seven stations on a rotating basis, where they learned about recycling, the water cycle, aquatic life, and the importance of protecting water sources and the environment.

Wildlife center director Kim Smith said she hopes children who attend these events appreciate the environment and understand how important it is to conserve it.

“We have to start the kids young. The younger they are when they start learning this stuff, the more willing they are to continue learning it,” Smith said. “They can take the information back to their families and teach them. It is important that they know about access to clean water and what it means to protect water sources through recycling, composting and not waste.

The center opened its doors in June and has already welcomed more than 4,000 visitors. This fall, Smith said, management is looking to partner with teachers from area schools to teach conservation and environmentalism classes.

At the stations set up, children got first-hand insight into the life cycle of a trout, how water molecules progress through the water cycle, and what bugs and insects in rivers and streams can tell experts about water quality.

Cassidy and Raylee, another fifth-grade student at Ramage Elementary, said their favorite station was “Aquatic Life,” where DEP employee Garrett Hoover showed them some of the different species often found in water courses. West Virginia water.

Raylee said she learned “a ton of things” she didn’t know.

“Bugs can come from really, really cold water — that was cool to know,” Raylee said.

“And the temperature of the water shows how much oxygen it has,” Cassidy continued. “So when the water heats up, there is less oxygen. And some bugs can’t live in that environment, and they might be shaking and thrashing because they can’t breathe.

Hoover, standing behind a table with test tubes filled with smaller species, trays of river water and more, said children are generally more interested in the diversity of aquatic creatures. Many, he says, that they have never heard of. And if they’ve heard of them — like the ubiquitous crayfish — they might not know how important bugs and insects are in determining the health of waterways.

The absence of a species in a water source could indicate higher levels of pollution or acidity if it is susceptible to these types of contamination. Some – as Raylee and Cassidy learned – can indicate changes in temperature.

“Bug data is really the cornerstone of how we monitor streams,” Hoover said. “With bugs, you can capture all the variability in an average stream and get an idea of ​​how it might change.”

All of this information was “fascinating” to Cassidy, who was eager to take this knowledge back to his two brothers.

“I really don’t know what’s out there in the world,” Cassidy said. “There are so many bugs, fish and things I’ve never seen before, but I can’t wait to find out all about it.”

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