Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Of the many hats I get to wear here at MISS, this week I got to play camp counselor! Camp Propel is a summer program run by a Minneapolis school district for kids that are at risk of falling further behind over the summer. Their whole week was about fish – mainly as a topic for reading and writing – but for one day the kids saw it brought to life at a national park. Quinn and I designed an invasive species and freshwater mussel station. It was so rewarding to work up the plan in office, try it out at training, and see it all the way through 2 days and almost 500 kids.

The kids got to witness DNR rangers use seine nets and demonstrate what fish live right there in the Mississippi River!

Our station featured live mussels (borrowed from a partner site for three days and spending the night at my house for that time… I’m quite attached to the little guys now). We also got some empty mussel shells from an earlier adventure with a crew of researchers on a mussel survey earlier that week. They were nice enough to give us the dead mussels to show the kids what the inside of mussel shells look like. Check out the Scuba Dive Go Pro Video made by a biotech here at MISS.

The kids also played a game that illustrated how invasive species can take over native habitat so quickly and easily. We included Zebra Mussels and Asian Carp in our station, with two life size cut outs of Silver (40 lbs) and Bighead Carp (up to 100 lbs!) to really drive home how big these fish are. They always laughed the hardest when I got hit in the face with our ‘flying carp’ when it got scared out of the water by a motor 😦

I also had the pleasure switching to the macro invertebrate station once I trained volunteers to run the mussel station. Yes, we successfully taught the 3rd graders how to say “aquatic macro invertebrates”…not an easy task! We collected invertebrates from the river and ponds in the park during the week. The kids were blown away when they caught something, especially something big like a snail, crayfish, or dragonfly larvae.

Several kids looking for macro invertebrates in the small buckets at each table.
Several kids looking for macro invertebrates in the small buckets at each table.