The chilly temperatures didn’t deter middle-schoolers from Surry and Wilkes counties from spending Friday morning outdoors at Stone Mountain State Park, giving a boost to nature and the environment.
The Stone Mountain chapter of Trout Unlimited has been sponsoring local schools’ Trout in the Classroom program for seven years, beginning its first year in East Wilkes Middle School and expanding since. Between Ashe, Surry and Wilkes counties, the local Trout Unlimited group has eight tanks in classrooms.
Friday morning, students from Elkin, East Wilkes, North Wilkes middle schools and Millennium Charter Academy in Mount Airy lined the creek along the roadside in Stone Mountain State Park to release the rainbow trout they’ve raised from eggs into the wild. Fish also were released from Wilkes Central Middle School, although the students weren’t able to attend.
In two weeks, the students in Ashe County will release their trout, said Keith Cockerham, vice president of the Stone Mountain chapter.
“We started with 200 eggs, and 14 made it,” said Alicia Murzin, teacher at North Wilkes Middle, as she and her students took a close look at the young two- to three-inch trout swimming in a plastic container awaiting their release.
Last year, Murzin’s first year with Trout in the Classroom, the students weren’t successful, with none of the fish making it to release date. This year was another story. “That’s a good survival rate for us,” she said of the 14 fish being released Friday.
Murzin said she learned about the program from another teacher at the school who’d read about it online. “They supplied me with everything — the fish, the tank and all of our needs. It is nice because it’s at least a $3,000 set up.”
The school created a club and has a hydrology unit in the eighth grade, so she uses the trout program to enhance that lesson. “They learn stream quality, biological indicators,” said Murzin.
She said students Mason Higgins and Matthew Bell were her “superstars” when it came to taking care of the trout, monitoring the water quality daily, as well as chemicals, temperatures and more.
Bell and Higgins said they both love fishing, and the science behind the project. Bell said in the wild only 10 percent of the trout survive.
At East Wilkes Middle, the Envirothon club takes on the Trout in the Classroom program as its service project, explained Russell Sparks, who is co-advisor of the club with fellow teacher Shelley Somers.
“For our guys it’s kind of a leadership project,” Sparks said. “They raised the trout, created lesson plans and went to other classrooms to teach them. They made it an awareness of how hard the trout is to grow and raise. It helps the students gain awareness of how critical nature is and to take care of that.
“Our club takes care of it. Our science classes meet in the science lab so they get to enjoy it and help with measurements, but it is the Envirothon’s project.”
The East Wilkes group had a similar survival rate as North Wilkes, releasing between 15 to 20 trout in the creek Friday morning.
All of the students with their coolers of fish lined up along the creek banks and as Jeff Payne, the Trout in the Classroom coordinator, instructed they all poured their fish into the creek in unison.
Following the release, the students were broken into groups of about 20 and they rotated through stations where they learned more about fish habitats and the nature around them from speakers including the North Carolina Forest Service, the Wilkes Soil and Water Conservation, New River Conservancy and others.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.