Learning at Hartman Creek State Park
By Greg Seubert
What’s the difference between a water scorpion and an aquatic sow bug?
Three-hundred local fifth-graders can probably answer that question after attending the annual Waupaca County Conservation Field Day.
The Golden Sands Resource Conservation & Development Council sponsored the annual event, held Sept. 29 at Hartman Creek State Park.
The Stevens Point-based council serves Waupaca, Portage, Outagamie, Waushara and eight other counties to protect Wisconsin’s natural resources.
Students visited stations that focused on such topics as wildlife, forestry, soils and fire safety.
Grace Hasse, a natural science education major at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, manned one of the stations on the trail between Mid and Hartman lakes and talked about the animals and plants she and Erin McFarlane from UW-Stevens Point’s Extension Lakes program found in the lakes.
“We got out here at about 8 this morning and got a sweep net,” Haase said. “We scoop it up, set it down on the ground and look at all the critters that we caught.”
Students were amazed with what Haase and McFarlane came up with. Their jars included fish, crayfish, leeches, bugs and a few plants.
“It’s a lot more exciting than watching a video in class or reading it in a textbook,” Haase said. “They get really excited when they see all these aquatic invertebrates which they may not have seen before. They just light up and get really close to all the buckets we have.
“They love being interactive with all the creatures and holding them,” she said. “Once they get this information, they realize how much is in the water that they may not have known about before. They can really think about how they’re impacting the lakes around them and maybe even look at stuff in the water at the lake they have near their house or if they’re on vacation somewhere. They can share it with others and really appreciate the lakes we have and all of the life that we have in all those lakes. It’s super-important to educate the next generation of people. People need to know that the environment around us is so important. We need clean air, we need clean water.”
Amy Thorstenson, the council’s advisory director, said the field day hasn’t changed much over the years.
“It’s pretty much the same,” she said. “We always try to get more organized so we can have as many kids out here as possible. It’s been about hands-on learning and having career professionals out here to teach what they are passionate about. It’s meant to be a hands-on day of learning about conservation. The baby dragonflies and water scorpions are fascinating to them because people don’t think of bugs living under the water, but they do. They learn about conservation, but they all see a potential career path for themselves. They’re starting to think about what they want to be when they grow up. They may discover that they’re really interested in soils or fish or wildfires.”
The council sends out invitations to all schools in Waupaca County, Thorstenson said.
“It’s very important to give that opportunity equally across the county to public and private schools so everybody has the opportunity,” she said. ““It’s first-come, first-served and when we’re full, it’s because we can only have groups so big. We try to keep the groups to a reasonable size.”
Hartman Creek is an ideal place to hold the event, according to Thorstenson.
“This park offers a lot with a very diverse setting,” she said. “They’re finding out how beautiful it is here. They can get outside, get some exercise and experience nature. They are in a beautiful county where they have woods around them, prairies, lots of lakes. They see it in their daily life and now, they’ll understand it a little more.”