LACLEDE — The purpose of the Pend Oreille Water Festival is to empower children with the knowledge to appreciate, respect, protect and conserve the area’s water resources.
“It’s to engage kids, get them outside — sitting in a classroom sometimes doesn’t get the message across,” said Gail Bolin, festival coordinator with the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District. “Some of the school are now doing what they call experiential learning — we have been doing it for 24 years— and it works.”
About 475 fifth-grade students from public and private schools across Bonner County attended this year’s festival over the course of two days, Thursday and Friday. On Friday, Bolin said there were about 240 kids rotating through the different stations, which included water quality, animal tracks, fisheries, watershed, fur trapping and orienteering.
One of the favorites among the kids each year is the water quality station, where they learn how to identify a variety of aquatic macroinvertebrates by their different characteristics — using real bugs, of course. They also have fun at the animal tracks station, because after learning about a variety of native species, they were given a plain white bandanna to stamp as many tracks on as they can. About 35 of experts from different organizations, such as U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Fish and Game, Panhandle Health and Kaniksu Land Trust, among others, were the instructors for each of the stations.
Sandpoint High School science teacher John Hastings enlists high school students to volunteer every year and, in general, he said they need 28 each day of the festival. On Friday, 42 teens volunteered, so each fifth-grade team had at least one high school student helping out, serving as guides and mentors. Not all of the students were from Hastings’ science class, but the ones who were had experience in some of the different areas such as water quality.
“They have already done macroinvertebrates, so they often are very helpful,” Hastings said, adding that the teens were helping the instructors and interacting with them and the kids. “So some of them have a pretty high degree of knowledge already on some of the stuff that’s covered here. And, of course, the forestry students are all pretty adept at orienteering. It certainly is beneficial to them to take on a leadership role with some of those skills they recently learned — it really helps enforce it.”
Some of the high school students had helped out in years past as well, he said, and most of them also attended the festival as fifth graders.
Hastings said he has been helping out at the festival for 11 years, though classes from SHS have been helping for the 24-year duration of the event. Bolin said the festival has been held at the Riley Creek Recreation Area in Laclede since 1996. It was started by Tri-State Water Quality Council, she said. When they closed in 2012, however, the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District took over.
“That’s when I took over as coordinator ... I love it,” she said.
The festival is co-sponsored by the Bonner Soil and Water Conservation District and the Army Corps of Engineers, and is supported through grants and donations.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.