By Laurie Wilhite
For The Sentinel 

Campers explore STREAM at Brooks


Contributed: Don Wilhite

CERTIFIED CAMPERS: STREAM Explorers May graduates holding their certificates from Trout Unlimited.

Science, Technology, Recreation, Engineering, Art, and Math (STREAM) Explorers camp was hosted by the Klickitat Chapter 484 of Trout Unlimited (TU) on May 17-19. The East Prong of the Little Klickitat River flows over a mile right through Brooks State Park and travels 13 miles south through Goldendale. The purpose of the weekend camp was to teach youth about healthy stream habitat, casting, macroinvertebrates, fly tying, and stewardship.

The STREAM Explorers in grades 4-6 began arriving the evening of May 17 at 6 p.m. with sleeping bags, outdoor gear, and a sense of adventure. As Trout Unlimited is a cold-water conservation, protection, and restoration organization, this was a perfect opportunity for Klickitat County youth to become familiar with the stream at Brooks. Thanks to grants from the Trout Unlimited Washington State Council and the National Trout Unlimited Embrace A Stream program, along with other donations, our STREAM Explorers camp happened again. The first camp was held at Brooks in October. With donations from both businesses, mentors, and TU chapter members, the $25 fee provides an entire weekend of food, lodging, and fishing lessons for these campers and is also open to their parents. Scholarships were offered to those who applied so that all who wished to could attend camp. The students saw a stream, the East Prong of the Little Klickitat River, like they never had before.

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As parents dropped off their campers and helped them settle into the heated cabins at Brooks, the volunteer TU member mentors Jessie Steele, Keith Steele, and Laurie Wilhite greeted them offering oak cookies name tags, STREAM Explorers guides, and art projects in the lodge. The guides are designed to encourage scientific observation while standing in the stream and include room for sketching, reflection, insect identification, and riparian activities.

For the opening activity on Friday night, campers all gathered in the lodge and were asked to-Think Like a Fish! A healthy stream has nine identifiable elements. Our explorers sat at nine round tables representing each of these elements as the concepts were introduced. Each table had a poster identifying an element. TU mentors Jessie Steele and Laurie Wilhite circulated around the room encouraging students at each table to share why their element: water, riffles, rocks, trees, wood (logs), short plants, sky, animals, and bugs is key to a healthy stream.

It was time for action as Steele asked the group, "Please take what you have learned and now think like a fish on a very hot, sunny day!" Explorers rapidly grouped at the trees table so they could find shade. "Where would a fish go if they wanted protection from predators?" asked Steele. Eager feet pounded the lodge floor as campers ran to the logs table. The active learning game continued with several more rounds before it became obvious that campers were indeed thinking like a fish, perhaps for the first time in their lives. After a snack, it was off to the cabins and bed as Saturday was a busy day.

The first adventure on Saturday on was to complete an hour-long stream walk in two separate sections of the Little Klickitat River at Brooks. Explorers at camp were asked to look at the stream as a scientist, an artist, and an angler in hopes that they would learn something new about the watershed in which we live. Key elements of the hands-on STREAM curriculum include this exploratory walk in the riparian area to research the health of the stream, macroinvertebrate sampling, fly casting, fly tying, and the nine ingredients of a healthy stream. Signs of wildlife and human activity were recorded in STREAM guides as students walked the Little Klickitat River. Reflections written in STREAM guides regarding what the student scientists were learning were shared at various times throughout the weekend camp.

Volunteerism is an important part of Trout Unlimited's connection to sharing conservation and recreation opportunities with youth. The Klickitat TU Chapter is a small organization in numbers, but large in the commitment of members to volunteer their time for youth. New members are most welcome and can get a discount by joining the Klickitat TU chapter. Overnight chaperones and mentors are background checked by the national Trout Unlimited office. Chapter members including Dick Stentz, Greg Chokas, Keith Steele, Greg Short, Fletcher Wilhite, and Don Wilhite were on hand to help teach the afternoon casting sessions. Explorers cast their rods into hula hoops to perfect their aim and learned a variety of casting techniques. Jessie Steele (events coordinator), Jeanene Stentz, Keith Steele, Angela Kruger, Suzanne Sparks, and Shavonne Gosson volunteered to prepare and serve camp meals.

While half of the campers were improving their casting skills, the other half were researching the presence of macroinvertebrates in the stream. Wetlands educator Ralph Rogers, Greg Chokas, and Fletcher Wilhite volunteered to help the STREAM Explorers learn about insects. Time to play in the stream proved to be great fun as well as a revelation of what lies beneath the river rock. Stonefly, caddis, larvae worms, and even crawdads presented themselves from under rocks for closer investigation. Once brought up from the stream in oxygenated buckets of water, the macroinvertebrates were isolated into ice cube trays and magnifying lenses were used to identify body parts. The number of legs, body shape, and tails were all used as clues on the macroinvertebrate identification chart to find the name of the insect. Understanding what fish like to eat not only makes for an effective angler, but also identifies the elements of a healthy habitat for fish.

Encouraging wildlife is important to a healthy stream. As a stewardship project Gary Gidley and Fletcher Wilhite helped campers build a bird house. The lumber and the supplies for the birdhouse kits were provided by Jim Allyn of Allyn's Building Center. Campers could either take their bird house home with them or donate it back to be placed in the forest. Water bottles for each camper to take home and insulated lunch bags were donated by Klickitat Valley Health.

The letter "A" in STREAM stands for art. The nature art leathercraft station and lessons helped campers create bookmarks, key chains, coasters, and wristbands to take home. Leather stamps used included icons of trout, dragonfly, eagle, forest, deer, butterfly, and even alphabet letters for monograming the artwork. During this time other recreation opportunities included tether ball, football, hiking, painting, basketball, and volleyball. Brooks is located on 700 acres and has an abundance of recreational opportunities for adults and youth.

Reflection of the day's adventures took place in the lodge just before dinner. Explorers reviewed and recorded what they had observed during the day in their STREAM Explorers guides. As the campers devoured the dinner, they were reminded of the evening's highlight...other than S'mores. They were going to learn to tie a fly to take home and try fishing in an area lake or river. Local TU chapters members Dick Stentz, Greg Short, and Keith Steele set up a fly tying station in the lodge and shared their expertise with the STREAM Explorers. Most students had never seen a fly tied before or tied one of their own, but after Short's demonstration they took a turn making a Wooly Bugger at the vise.

The closing ceremony Sunday morning reviewed the nine elements of a healthy stream. Each camper was given a bead representing those nine elements and strung them together to make a key chain or bracelet. The youth helped to clean up and check out of the cabins and lodge as parents showed up to collect their campers. The second ever STREAM Explorers camp for our Klickitat Chapter of Trout Unlimited was over. Memories had been made, lessons were learned, new ideas had formed, and friendships were strengthened. We all learned from the stream.

On the way home after camp TU offered a fishing opportunity to the youth on the Little Klickitat River at Ekone Park in Goldendale. Jesse Miller of the Goldendale Trout Hatchery is a supporter of the chapter and coordinated with the volunteer STREAM Explorer mentors to make the fishing event a success. Campers used the Trout Unlimited fishing gear and campers soon started catching trout! Many campers took trout home to prepare for a meal while others released them back into the stream.

There is still time to register for the next camp! Both girls and boys can be STREAM Explorers and come to Brooks State Park. The last camp of the summer will be held on June 7-9. Registration forms can be found at the newspaper offices, public libraries, and area 4-6th grade schools. For further information contact Klickitat TU at (509) 941-9979.


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