Baggs, Wyoming, schoolkids at the Muddy Creek Adopt-A-Trout field day
By Nick Walrath
On a recent morning, a long line of bright yellow Carbon County school buses—filled with the entire school population of Baggs, Wyoming—left the pavement to travel over 20 miles down dusty BLM roads to meet TU staff and other resource management folks on the banks of an inauspicious little creek in south-central Wyoming.
It was part of an effort to get Baggs kids out of their classrooms and into the field to learn more about the amazing world of rivers and wildlife.
Muddy Creek may not look like much, but it hosts four very special native fish species, one of which is the Colorado River cutthroat trout. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is interested in using TU’s Adopt a Trout program (AAT) to learn more about cutthroat movement patterns in the Muddy Creek system in order to improve their habitat conditions.
TU has been organizing successful AAT programs throughout Wyoming for over five years. These programs take real wildlife management information needs identified by WGFD and turn them into hands-on learning opportunities for school-aged children in which local schools “adopt” the fish and learn about the fishery.
“The Adopt-A-Trout program is a great way to show kids what’s in their own back yards,” said Anna Senecal, fisheries biologist with the WGFD. “It also gives us an opportunity to engage them in applied science and show them how data can be used in ‘real-world’ settings.”
How did we end up here? This spring I asked Dawn Arnell, assistant natural resource coordinator with the Little Snake River Conservation District, if there was a teacher in Baggs who might be interested in participating in an AAT program at Muddy Creek. I assumed there would be one, maybe two, teachers with 20 or 30 kids.
I completely underestimated the enthusiasm of the Baggs school and Dawn.
Within a week or two, Dawn had arranged for a meeting with teachers from the high school, middle school and grade school at the Baggs School. Every teacher insisted that no grade be left out.
Even with the great success of the AAT program in other areas of Wyoming, we have never worked with an entire school, so I was a little hesitant. However, after seeing the passion and willingness of the teachers, I agreed.
Over the summer, other partners in the program were engaged, including WGFD’s Anna Senecal, TU’s Wyoming Coordinator Scott Christy, and BLM fisheries biologist Brad Tribby. This Muddy Creek program with the Little Snake school was unusual since every kid in the entire school was coming on this field trip—that’s right, all 150 kids, from 1st through 12th grades.
And it wasn’t just the kids. All the teachers, teacher helpers, the principal, bus drivers and most of the busses also attended. To make things even more difficult, the project area is about as off the beaten path as you can get. The field day location where the study is to take place is almost a two-hour bus ride on dirt and gravel roads from Baggs.
“Most schools would have stopped it right there,” said Scott Christy. “Fortunately, the school in Baggs simply isn’t most other schools, and they were dedicated to making it happen.”
Here’s how AAT works: First, the fish are tagged with radio telemetry tags and tracked by project partners throughout the school year. We plan on tagging 20 Colorado River Cutthroat trout in the upper Muddy Creek drainage. We hope these tagged fish will give us an idea of what we can do to help them out.
Throughout the course of the school year, the AAT is woven into the school’s curriculum by having classrooms participate in relocating the fish and analyzing the data. Resource management professionals prepare classroom visits that discuss a variety of topics including stream ecology, biology, wildlife management and career opportunities.
The Baggs AAT program is unique in that it includes all of the school-aged children in the community of Baggs, as opposed to one grade level. Each AAT program is kicked off with an initial field visit where the kids get to see the creek, view tagging demonstrations and more.
The kids spent the day rotating through different learning stations. “The kids learned about aquatic insects, aquatic invasive species, native fish of Muddy Creek, got to see a demonstration of a fish getting a tag surgically implanted, and learned how the tracking equipment works,” said Dawn Arnell.
This will be our most challenging AAT program to date. However, with challenges come great rewards. This was evident by the beaming smiles on the faces of kids, teachers, and partners at the end of the first day.
“This effort has been and will continue to be a lot of work,” said Christy, “but if it keeps our youth interested in special places like Muddy Creek, it is worth it all and more.”
Nick Walrath is TU’s Green River Project Manager.