LAURIN – Almost 100 third, fourth and fifth grade students from Sheridan and Twin Bridges gathered at the Ruby Habitat Foundation’s Woodson Ranch for the eighth annual Kids River Resource Day, where children are invited onto local ranch properties to learn about various conservation issues.
While some students were more excited to get out of the classroom than others, especially under a smoky haze from regional wildfires, all the kids enjoyed the opportunity to learn about something they never knew existed in their own backyard. Nearly a dozen different presenters spoke on topics ranging from fish and aquatic invasive species to bats, bears and cattle. Students also learned about recreational ethics, invertebrates and different types of pollinators and even how riverbanks are affected by sediment and erosion.
Ruby Habitat Foundation executive director Les Gilman explained that one of the organizations’ purposes is to provide opportunities for educational outreach in natural resource management issues, to give kids the chance to get dirty and learn about their environment for themselves.
“So they can have a little better appreciation of the diversity of the natural world around them,” Gilman said. “We believe it’s vital to provide every educational opportunity we can, and we’re happy to host this here today just because so many of the young people don’t have the opportunity to actually get on the ground and experience firsthand: hands in the water, feet on the ground experiencing wildlife around them.”
Many students were captivated by the presentation on bears given by Rebecca Skeldon of the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest that emphasized safety and proper food storage.
“In the Ruby Valley there are a lot of grizzly bears and black bears,” she said. “It’s good to let them know that bears aren’t going to eat them.”
Others gave Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks aquatic education coordinator Dave Hagengruber a run for his money at the Fish Jeopardy station, deftly answering questions about the many waterways and fish species in the state. While Hagengruber tried to stump students by asking about specific identification marks on fish and destinations of certain watersheds, many of them answered like seasoned anglers.
Twin Bridges fifth grader Cody Olsen said his favorite part of the Kids River Resource Day was learning about fish, quickly adding that he considers himself an old pro when it comes to working the water around Montana.
“I liked the paddlefish,” he said.
The Ruby Habitat Foundation was founded by Craig Woodson in 2002, in the hopes of preserving a delicate wetlands habitat for the future. Woodson willed his 1,100-acre property to the foundation before his death in January 2011.
“He had the idea that at his death, there would be the means to carry on the work he had started,” Gilman said of Woodson. “He realized that he wouldn’t be able to own it and run it forever, but he wanted to figure our a way to perpetuate the things that he had started so he very wisely and generously created this foundation.”
For Gilman, the best part of the Kids River Resource Day was the level of excitement and enthusiasm displayed by the kids across the board.
“It demonstrates that there is a desire to learn this information, but also there is a need to present it because they’re not getting it otherwise if we cant get them out here,” he said.