The morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, saw 85 students from Stagg High School in Stockton, Calif. gather at the base of New Hogan Dam in Calaveras County to spend a day connecting to a local watershed, that of the Lower Calaveras River.
The event marked the third annual Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day and increased student numbers reflected the event’s growing success, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Anadromous Fish Restoration Program (AFRP), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and members of Friends of the Lower Calaveras River (FLCR).
The Service and FLCR worked with Stagg High School biology teacher Marcus Sherman to actively identify and recruit interested students who live near the lower reaches of the Calaveras River in Stockton – a reach that is mostly characterized by high channelization and structural controls, in stark contrast to the riparian area students visited.
“This was definitely our best Appreciation Day yet,” commented Service fishery biologist Donnie Ratcliffe, who has organized all three events as part of the Service’s Connecting People with Nature project.
Students arrived by bus at the Monte Vista Day Use Area, situated immediately adjacent to the Calaveras River and nearby hiking trails. Within a half-hour students were quickly divided among four different work stations, all emphasizing basic field biology techniques and healthy watershed functions.

Retired Stockton educator James Marsh talks to students about how to deepen their observation skills.

Retired Stockton educator James Marsh talks to students about how to deepen their observation skills.

Dr. Stacy Luthy, a University of the Pacific professor and past Appreciation Day leader, led students through a fisheries activity that focused on fish within the Calaveras River and aquatic habitat below New Hogan Dam.
When Luthy posed the question, “What is different about this river compared to the river in Stockton?” students were quick to point out that “no levees” could be seen and “this is probably what a river is supposed to look like.”
Another workstation, Bird watching and Identification, was headed by FLCR member Nan Ballot. Ballot – also a past Appreciation Day volunteer – helped students find and identify different bird species hidden among the tree canopy with binoculars. Small Phoebes seemed to be the most prevalent and easy to spot species.
Many students, in their comments, noted that an activity new to this year’s event was a favorite. Retired Stockton educator and FLCR member Jim Marsh showed students the difference between “looking” and “seeing” in an activity focused on seeking out natural treasures in the immediate vicinity.
“Even scientists draw pictures,” said Marsh as he encouraged students to explore the surrounding area, pick something to observe and detail all they could about it in a journal entry.
“It’s so encouraging to see young people’s faces excited about being outside,” he said. Students then sat in a circle and shared their observations with one another in an informal discussion.
A fourth and final activity was led by FLCR member Dale Sanders and focused on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates and their respective roles in the ecosystem around and beyond the river.
After all students completed each activity, a lunch was held outdoors at the Army Corps’ Observation Point and students engaged in meaningful conversations with attending adults and also spent some free time exploring New Hogan Lake, an opportunity many students may not have otherwise had.
Following lunch Army Corps Ranger Gary Basile and Ratcliffe gave a presentation highlighting the importance of recreational water safety and discussed the reservoir ecosystem of New Hogan Lake.

Stagg High students peer over the edge of a bridge to look at fish in the Lower Calaveras River.

Stagg High students peer over the edge of a bridge to look at fish in the Lower Calaveras River.

While feedback from activity leaders and event volunteers was highly positive it was the comments provided by the students that clearly highlighted the large impact this event has on creating conservation-minded youth.
The most overwhelming response from student suggestions was that students be allowed to have more time and additional activities added to future Appreciation Days.
One student commented that their favorite aspect of the event was, “‘learning about the river and lake, learning how to observe nature, spending time in a beautiful place with my friends and talking to so many nice adults that were excited to share with us.”
“The Calaveras River provides habitat for all kinds of animals, gives us clean drinking water, protects us from floods and has lots of cool stuff to explore and learn about,” read another comment.
It is clear that the Calaveras River Education and Appreciation Day is a popular event that succeeds at engaging youth in dialog concerning the importance of their local natural resources and is effective at encouraging them to think critically about how to conserve such resources for the future. A comment from Service biologist Ratcliffe succinctly alludes to the enjoyment students experienced during their day on the river.
“I am of course greatly pleased that the single most popular comment regarding what they’d (students) have us do different is to spend more time and have more activities, pretty cool for a bunch of teenage kids to want to spend more time learning about nature on a Saturday!”

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