McNab fifth-grader Haley Rulison had to roll down her hefty adult-sized waders before jumping into the water.
She was one of about 100 Gloversville fifth-graders gathered at the DEC Hale Creek field station Thursday morning. Every spring, Cornell Cooperative Extension works with various agencies to put on environmental field day programs.
Of all the kids at Thursday’s field day, Haley was one of the most eager to get her hands on some environmental learning.
Retired DEC biologist Dave Mayack taught a group of about 20 how to identify species of fish by color and body shape. They all paid relatively close attention to the short lecture, but when he asked for volunteers to jump in the stock pond and net specimens, Haley leapt at the opportunity.
Unlike the crowd of squirming kids recoiling in horror on dry land, she didn’t seem to mind proximity to the slimy fish.
“I pick up worms at school,” she said. “I like this sort of thing.”
Mayack had kids lift fish from the water by turn, testing them on the lecture.
“Where is the adipose fin?” he asked, prompting one kids to guess using a rainbow trout.
The fish lesson was just one of six learning stations evoking fifth-grade horror and curiosity.
“Oh my gosh. It looks like a scorpion sort of thing,” said one boy, apparently grossed out by a mayfly larvae.
That sort of reaction, according to Tim Martin, is what the field days are all about. He runs the station, which usually focuses on tracking contaminates in aquatic species, but each spring kids come out to learn.
He stood inside, watching the goings-on through the window.
“You can really tell which ones have been fishing and been around this stuff,” he said, “and which ones haven’t.”
As he spoke a girl with both hands clamped over her mouth sprinted past on her way to the bathroom.
“If you’re going to throw up, please make it to the bathroom,” he called after her. “Every year there’s always at least one.”
While he has spent his life around fish and the sort of creepy-crawlies dragged from the creek for display Thursday, he said most kids are totally clueless.
“Most of these kids grew up in the city,” he said.
Biologist Sean Madden was on hand from the main Albany DEC office to teach kids about the accumulation of pollutants in food chain-topping predators. He smiled as the kids rushed around in excited tides.
“These are the people that are going to be making decisions about the environment,” he said. “It’s important they actually see the environment.”
Currently, Madden is studying the effects of river pollution on mink and otters in the Mohawk Valley. He sees what manufacturing waste can ruin every day, but said it’s easy for kids to forget what they learned in a nice clean classroom.
“Today, they’re getting outside and getting dirty in the river,” he said. “They can’t get that in the classroom.”
Another fifth-grade McNab student, Joey Pearl, fished a water sample from one of the field station stock ponds and slid in a piece of litmus paper for a pH reading.
“It says 7.2,” he said, “I think that’s OK. I’m not sure what I’ll get out of this, but it’s better than math class.”