Twenty-three third-graders from Milford Central School clambered along the banks of a sunlit Elk Creek near Schenevus last week, trying to get a better look at the action below them.
They watched as one of their classmates, Kenson McWaters, 9, gently dipped a net into the water, releasing a small trout. They cheered as the fish wriggled away to its new life, and other kids took their turns releasing more trout that were waiting in a bucket. Kimberly Burkhart, one of the teachers at the event, led the kids in a special song for the occasion.
“Bye, bye trout. Bye, bye aquatic friends,” the kids sang. “We hope we’ll see you when you’re swimming down the stream!”
This trout release is part of a national program called “Trout in the Classroom” through Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s cold water fisheries and watersheds, according to its website.
Trout in the Classroom’s goal is to teach kids about water resources, ecosystems, stream habitats and to foster a conservation ethic, according to its website. Classrooms get trout eggs from local hatcheries and raise them until they become fry, or juvenile fish that can feed themselves. Then, students release them into a state-approved stream near the school or within a nearby watershed.
Out of the about 50 trout adopted by Milford Central School, only one was lost, said Tom Trelease, president of Oneonta’s Trout Unlimited Chapter. He said thousands of fish get stocked in water bodies like Elk Creek, but not many remain into the next year because of fishermen who don’t release after catching. Other threats faced by area trout include industrialization, pollutants like road salt that can leach into the water and tree cutting, Trelease said.
Lily Cheslick, 8, said she would have stayed home to see her grandparents who are in town, but she wanted to send off the trout she helped raise.
“I felt good, I only came to school because I wanted to see the trout go,” she said. “I was very excited.”
This is the first year Milford Central School took part in “Trout in the Classroom,” with plans to do it again, Burkhart said. In the classroom, the students made sure the tank’s temperature stayed at 55 degrees, watched for skin darkening that can indicate poor health in trout and maintained a safe and quiet environment for the fish, she said. Students also wrote advice letters for the trout as they started their lives in the wild, gave presentations to pre-K through high school students about what they were doing in the classroom and did lots of research on trout life stages and habitats, Burkhart said.
“They really care about their release and how they’re going to survive,” Burkhart said. “It’s really made them more conscious about their decisions and littering and taking care of the environment.”
Liam Gannon, 9, said releasing the trout was a bittersweet experience for him.
“I was sad because we had to release the trout, and I was happy because they got to be released to their natural habitat,” Gannon said.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at 607-441-7221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ShwetaK.