Park Service Hosting Missouri River Educational Festival May 8 By Randy Dockendorf
Yankton Media, Inc. Stephen Wilson is asking area students to help prevent an invasion of the Missouri River. Wilson, of the National Park Service in Yankton, will help give a presentation on invasive species at the first Missouri River educational festival. The topic is just one of 10 presentations during the May 8 event at Riverside Park in Yankton. "We will have a big boat for demonstrating how to deal with aquatic invasive species," he said. "We will show how to clean the boat in a way that prevents or gets rid of these species." At the festival, more than 200 students from southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska will learn the Missouri River is more than just water. They will rotate throughout the morning, choosing six 20-minute presentations ranging from sediment to cultural and historical issues. The Vermillion school district will show up in force, said Mary Robb with the City of Yankton‚s public services department. Robb, who is handling registration, said Vermillion's participation pushed the festival's turnout past the 200 mark. "We received a call from Vermillion Middle School, asking if we had room for 47 students," she said. "They are bringing their entire seventh-grade class. That's tremendous." Besides hearing from a number of agencies, students will interact with presenters from the Yankton Sioux Tribe on the American Indian connection to the river, and the Missouri River Relief organization, which conducts massive river clean-ups. And the students will gain hands-on experience. As one example, Wilson will show how little creatures can create major problems in the river. He clicked off a list: Zebra mussel, purple loosestrife, curly leaf pond weed and Asian clams. The upcoming river festival will educate students on how they can help fight such invasive species, he said. Early action can play a crucial role in preserving the health of the river, Wilson said. "In 2003, we found zebra mussel 'water samples' that were in the larval stages," he said. "Since 2003, the National Park Service and Game, Fish and Parks have worked together, and they have not found any zebra mussels since then." The purple loosestrife, while colorful, can take control of waterways, Wilson said. "The purple loosestrife is not as bad because we have used biocontrol. We have a beetle that attacks the plant," he said. "(The beetles) were originally received from the prison in Springfield, and now they come from the Yankton Trusty Unit." The educational festival has gained tremendous interest from schools. The schools participating so far include Vermillion Middle School, Irene-Wakonda, Yankton High School, Sacred Heart School of Yankton, Niobrara, Neb., and Lynch, Neb. The response has shown schools‚ recognition of the Missouri River as a treasure in their own back yards, said Paul Lepisto of Pierre, regional conservation coordinator for the Izaak Walton League of America. "We now have 209 students registered for the festival," he said. "We are closing in on our 250 figure that we were hoping for this year. We are in great shape." However, there‚s still room for more, Robb said. "We are still flexible and able to accommodate more people," she said. Interested schools can register by calling her at (605) 688-5213 or by e-mailing her at email@example.com The educational festival will fit in well with classroom work, said Angie Hejl, biology teacher at Yankton High School. "We are taking our advanced placement biology classes, who are juniors," she said. "We are using it for a kickoff to our ecology unit. That's how we will end the year for the last few weeks of (advanced placement) biology." The festival will provide valuable hands-on experiences with professionals in the field, Hejl said. "We are focusing on how science knowledge is acquired through authentic research," she said. "That knowledge comes out of activities. Here, they will be with scientists who are practicing in their careers." The students will also be challenged as they conduct research, Hejl said. "This reinforces the need for creative and critical thinking and asking questions," she said. "That's where additional information will come from in the future." Just as importantly, students will learn how to defend their findings, Hejl said. "You can't just think and wish about it. You have to face a review by your peers as they critique your research and scientific process," she said. "You are seeing an increased emphasis of that on the ACT, SAT and Dakota STEP tests." The timing of the river festival ties in perfectly with new directions taken by the National Park Service in Yankton, Wilson said. The NPS is scheduled to move into its new Yankton headquarters in May, he said. In addition, the NPS staff in Yankton should add a new education specialist by the end of summer, he said. Organizers are hoping the May 8 educational festival will encourage students to participate in the next day‚s Missouri River clean-up. The sixth annual clean-up will commence from the Riverside Park boat ramp. Interested persons can show up that morning or register online at www.nps.gov/mnrr with a link for clean-up registration. Students can benefit from the school festival in two ways, Robb said. "This is a great opportunity for students to learn about the river and how to preserve the river for their future use," she said. "It is also a great tool for students who may want to pursue higher education in any of the fields presented." This year‚s strong interest in the river festival has already laid the foundation for the future, Lepisto said. "After it's over, we will see how we did it and how it played out," he said.