Clay County 5th Graders
Take The Hands-On Approach Gabe King, who goes to Irene-Wakonda Elementary School, Wakonda, was one of 150 students who attended the fourth annual Clay County 5th Graders' River Appreciation Day at the National Guard Armory in Vermillion on April 29. Rain forced organizers to move the event indoors, scrapping the original plan to invite students to Clay County Park along the Missouri River. King, his classmates and other students from the Vermillion, St. Agnes and Gayville-Volin school districts were no less enthusiastic to participate. The hands-on activities immediately captivated their attention as they hunkered down to glean all they could about the smells, sights and sounds they'd encounter at the river's edge. Students arrived for the morning or afternoon sessions. Upon their arrival they were treated to some American folk songs by area musicians Ed Johnson and Michelle Martin, who performed "This Land Is My Land," and "Shenandoah." Jerry Wilson, a local naturalist, opened and closed the morning and afternoon sessions. He shared trivia about the Missouri National Recreational River, referred to as the 59-mile District, which extends from Gavins Point Dam to Ponca, Neb. He later added, "I hope the students will both enjoy and take care of the river, and realize they're a part of it, not separate." Next, Grace Freeman gave a brief overview about what to expect along the trail, and invited students to find their Trail Guide, and head off on their journey to eight different campsites. The University of South Dakota (USD) art students, the USD students and Sierra Club members, and USD IdEA students, served as art camp helpers, camp helpers and trail guides, respectively. When King and the rest of his group stopped at the Soils Campsite, Deron Ruesch, district conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Vermillion, discussed the significance of soil-forming properties. They received a crash course in what soil types to look for along the river. The Missouri is sometimes called "The Big Muddy" or "The Mighty Mo," due to the aggressive churning action of the water that gives it that muddy appearance, according to Ruesch. After they studied a diagram of a 3-foot long soil profile, the kids got their fingers dirty as they examined the textures of sand, silt and clay in plastic buckets nearby. They finished up by playing "The Big Muddy" game. Students put a bit of sand, silt and clay in a glass jar. Next, they added water to fill the jar. Then another volunteer shook the jar up until it looked like chocolate milk, and set it down to watch the soil particles fall to the bottom. The layers settled out in the jar, which illustrates exactly what happens during a flooding event. At the Aquifer Camp, Sarah Chadima, a geologist with the South Dakota Geological Survey, discussed how water moves underground and through aquifers. To illustrate how sand and gravel act like ice cubes in a cup, students were shocked when she took a couple sips of soda pop from a glass filled with gravel. She explained that Vermillion residents get their drinking water from the Missouri aquifer. This demonstration helped them understand that when you drill a well in Clay County, the well screen intake needs to be set within the sand and gravel; not clay. The sand and gravel layer contains water-filled pores that allow water to easily flow through it. The fifth graders explored several other exciting campsites. For example, Karla Zeutenhorst, Park Ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Gavins Point and Lewis and Clark Lake, covered swim safety. "Take a minute before you leave for the river, lake or pool, to think about what you need to do to be safe," she said. Swimming safety tips she shared include: • only wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard Approved Life Jacket. "Floatie" water toys and wrist bands are not U.S. Coast Guard Approved and should not be used as life-saving devices. • swim with a buddy. • tell your parents where you're going when you leave for the pool, lake or river. • swim in designated swimming areas, and • if someone starts to drown, never swim out to them. • i you need to save a drowning victim, throw a cooler or an item that floats to them so they can grab it and begin to float. Reach for them from the side of the boat. At Boat Camp, Harry Freeman and Terry Hill taught students the differences between a kayak and canoe. Then they paired off in teams of two to build and adorn a sailboat. Event organizers will take the students' sailboats to Clay County Park at a later date, and release them for a big boat race down the river. At the Watershed Campsite, John Erickson, a Vermillion educator, allowed students to play at a stream table to see how runoff from a rainstorm flows through a watershed. Three bird models could be seen from afar as they neared the Art Camp, where Nancy Losacker, directed each individual to draw a bird. "Draw. Draw. Draw," she said. Each student got only 5-10 minutes to complete his or her bird picture. Outside in the tepee located in back of the Armory, students slowly entered and crouched together at the Animal Camp, where they met Joe Keeton and Sam Schelhaas, conservation officers for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks division. The two officers, saddled with the responsibility to enforce hunting, fishing and boating laws, challenged the fifth graders to correctly identify a host of pelts and furs of critters that they can find up and down the river. Nearing the end of their journey, they put their creative juices to work. They found Norma Wilson — a poet, scholar, and representative from the Vermillion Area Arts Council — at the Poetry Campsite. She's inspired by the beauty along the "Living River" as she refers to the Missouri River. She taught each camp visitor how to write haiku poetry. This event would not be possible without financial grants from the Living River Group of the Sierra Club, South Dakota Water Festival Fund, USD IdEA Program and the Vermillion Area Arts Council. The American Canoe Association, American Rivers, Clay County Park, Coffee Shop Gallery, Fullerton's Building Center, Jones Food Center, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Dakota Game, Fish and Wildlife, South Dakota Discovery Center WET Project, The University of South Dakota, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USDA Forest Service, and again, the Vermillion Area Arts Council all added contributions to the educational program.