Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Homeschool Field Trip: Fish Hatchery

Today we traveled to Lanesboro, Minnesota. The boys enjoyed the scenic drive, as they searched the rolling hills and scenic landscape for cows, "horsies," as Mitchell still sweetly calls them, and Audis. Located in the southeastern part of the state, about an hour from our home, Lanesboro is situated in the beautiful Root River Valley, surrounded by blufflands and linked to the Root River Trail. Today, the hillsides were lush with vibrant green leaves and grasses, and the downtown streets, normally bustling with art lovers, bikers, and canoeing tourists, were quiet. We spent the morning at the the fish hatchery, one of five cold-water hatcheries managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR stocks over 1300 state lakes with fish raised in its hatcheries.

We were the first family to arrive, and the boys were delighted to spot an oriole and one of my favorites, an indigo bunting, while we waited for our friends. Click here to visit a fascinating website filled with lots of great information about birds. You can listen to their calls; browse birds by color, body shape, and region; compare two or more birds side-by-side; and utilize other features to identify a bird you have seen.
We learned about the history of the fish hatchery, which had been the site of a grist mill in the early part of the 1900's. When trains began bringing commercially ground flour to the area, bakeries no longer needed the stone ground flour from the local mill, so the location was transformed into a fish hatchery. During its first year in the 1930's, a disaster cut off the water supply to the hatchery, killing all 300,000 trout. A natural spring supplies cold water to to the hatchery at the amazing rate of 5000 gallons per minute. The temperature of the water is a chilly, constant 48 degrees.

Following a complex spawning process, trout are raised at the hatchery for up to four years and shipped via truck to lakes and streams throughout the state, within a twelve-hour traveling distance. Fishing in Minnesoata is a whopping 1.9 billion dollar industry each year, and according to the video we watched during our tour, less than two percent of the DNR hatchery costs are subsidized through state revenue; almost all of the expenses are paid through trout stamps and other user fees.

After we watched the video explaining the trout spawning process in great detail, we looked inside one of the buildings. The concrete raceways were filled with cold water and thousands of rainbow fingerlings.

The kids couldn't wait one more minute to feed the trout in the special pond where feeding by visitors is permitted, so we headed over to the dock where the naturalist had left behind a half-filled five-gallon bucket of special fish food for our learning enjoyment. All of the kids threw handful after gleeful handful into the water, jumping with excitement as some of the ten-thousand trout jumped out of the water to catch a snack.

The kids and moms enjoyed the beauty of the rushing water from the spring that feeds the raceways, as the concrete canals are called, at the hatcher. The small, rapid waterfall pictured behind their smiling faces is the "leftover" water from the 5000 gallon-per-minute spring. Some of us reached into the water to sample the feeling of 48 degree water that nourishes the 1.5 million trout exported to Minnesota lakes and streams from the hatchery each year.

Jadyn spotted this picture-perfect spiderweb as we observed the size difference between one, two, and three year-old trout swimming in separate raceways. The smaller, younger trout are given more food because their metabolism is faster. Fifty three year-old trout and fifty four-year old trout are saved from each "batch" of fish each year to prevent inbreeding in the next year's group of fish.

On our way to the last stop on our tour of the hatchery, we saw the building where large bags of fish food are stored.

The largest building has several long raceways, filled with fresh, cold water. Here the trout are placed in special tanks filled with cold water, salt, and special no-foam solution for transport to Minnesota water bodies suitable for trout. They are not fed for three days to prevent clouding of the water in the truck during transport. When they arrive at their destination, the temperature of the water in the lake, stream, or reservoir is measured, and the water in the truck's tank is adjusted accordingly, to prevent the fish from going into shock when they are placed in their new home. The fish can survive safely in the truck for twelve hours.

Members of a Sentence-to-Service crew clean an empty trout pond and prepare it for next season's stock of fish.

Each of the four families from our Peace Kids Homeschool Group packed a picnic lunch, so we drove a couple of miles to Sylvan Park along Lanesboro's main street. We were disappointed in the cold temperatures and hurriedly ate our food so we could try to warm up. Mitchell and Max were both dressed in shorts since the online weather forecast had predicted a pleasant 74 degrees.

Our friend Isaac and mom Therese generously offered to share their fishing tackle they keep in the back of their vehicle, so I took some of the kids to the woodsy area along the back side of the pond, which is stocked with fish, to choose long sticks to fashion homemade fishing poles. Going fishing was the highlight of our afternoon, and we hadn't planned that part of our field trip! Eight year-old Nic got a boost from his mom Becky as they tried to reach a dead branch that would have been perfect for a sturdy fishing pole.

Four year-old Mags caught the first tiny, shimmery fish of the afternoon. Therese helped unhook the fish and she showed it to Mitchell and the other nearby kids, opening its mouth wide and pointing out its little tongue. Mitchell thought that part was pretty neat, but he didn't want to touch the fish.

Mags' mom Becky caught the next fish of the afternoon. Some of the kids wondered why we didn't keep it for a bite-sized dinner!

I snapped this photo of the ducks to honor my brothers and their incessant teasing of my love of taking pictures. Their favorite story to tell is about the time we -- my parents, five year-old Danny, Baby Brian, and ten year-old me -- walked around Lake Harriet in the Twin Cities and I snapped a whole roll of film of the ducks and their new babies with my Fisher Price 110 Camera. They don't like to talk about the part when Danny wanted to "turn around" and go back the long way to the car, after we had passed the stately bandshell and we were only a few hundred yards away from finishing our lap and returning to our Monte Carlo with the turbo-charged engine.
Mags shows off the flour-sack dress her mom sewed for her this past weekend, as well as the seaweed she didn't want to remove from her hook. I remembered my own days of fishing with my forever friend Angie and her family on our summer trips to Gull Lake in northern Minnesota, when both of us would ask her dad to remove the seaweed we had snagged. We also asked him to remove the fish from our hooks, until he taught us how to use his mighty pliers, and then we learned how to unhook the fish without even touching them! We also wore water shoes while kneeboarding and water skiing so we wouldn't have to step on the slimy plants, and once, Angie's parents rented wet suits for us because of the cold temperatures, and then we didn't have any kind of algae touching any part of our bodies!

Nic caught a fish, and as he proudly pulled it out of the water, the fish slipped off his hook and landed in the nearby grass. The kids laughed as Nic and Marco tried to catch it and toss it back into the pond.

The youngest fisher-kids were ready for some real playtime, so while the other moms stayed with Max and the other big kids, I took Mitchell, Mags, Miguel, and Sebastian across the grassy lawn to a playground that was designed just the right size for little bodies. When we arrived at the park earlier in the afternoon, Mitchell spotted a merry-go-round, and exclaimed, "Mom, look at that 'pinning thing!" since those old-fashioned, potentially dangerous types of equipment are now absent from most playgrounds. The merry-go-round was a hit with our two-to-four year-old crowd. I visited with an older gentleman dressed in striped denim overalls sitting nearby who was glad to hear the clamor of the kids playing together so happily.

After the kids had tried out everything at the playground at least twice, we headed back to the pond to check on big brothers and sisters. Baby Anna was sound asleep in her stroller, and a few big kids had caught some fish, including trout, sunfish, and one bass. Max didn't catch anything today (he decided that he didn't have that "beginner's luck" since he had gone fishing last summer) and I was glad he wasn't too disappointed. After we said our goodbyes to our friends around 2:30, Max, Mitchell, and I decided to take a short detour on the way home and explore downtown Lanesboro. We stopped at a shop stocked with treats for dogs and other pet-friendly products, where we purchased two gourmet cookies coated with frosting and sprinkles for Muffy and Minnie, and two bottles of geranium-scented Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products, the best natural cleaning aids ever and worth every penny. (The products are very concentrated and a little goes a long way!) Next we headed to an ice cream shop where we bought a Peppermint Bon-Bon ice cream cone for Max, a Cotton Candy ice cream cone for Mitch, and an iced tea and double chocolate chip cookie for me.

We stopped at a gift shop on our way back to the car in search of the perfect souvenirs for the boys to remember our fun day, and we found just what they wanted: a magnetic beaded necklace for Max similar to the one a friend recently showed him, and a felt, animal-shaped jewelry box with a sparkly necklace inside for Mitch. After we were safely in the car, he told me the frog-shaped case was for his inch-high "little guys."

A few minutes after we arrived back home, tired but happy, the doorbell rang. Max and Mitch were so excited to see their neighborhood friends Syndey and Victoria, so my plans of bathtime and jammies were put on hold for some playtime on the swingset. Muffy entertained all four of them as she dug and dug, hot on the trail of the elusive, destructive pocket gopher that has moved into our backyard this year.

No comments: