Jr. Ranger Day features “good news” about water April 29
Rain lets up, sun shines for school field day devoted to water and water quality
By Jo Schaper
After one of the wettest weeks on record in the Shannon and Reynolds County Ozarks, with some students missing two days of school due to flooded roads, Mother Nature put on her finest spring attire for the National Park Service/Jacks Fork Watershed Committee co-sponsored Junior Ranger Day, Friday, April 29, at Alley Spring.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 fourth and fifth grade students rode their big yellow school busses to Alley for a day of outdoors education featuring learning games, exhibits, demonstrations, live animals and the centerpiece the spring itself, which had subsided just in time.
I had signed up as a volunteer for the day, in return for the fun of talking to about 250 of those youngsters about springs and karst.My plan was to walk them to the spring, and talk about the most common questions most visitors have: why is the water blue? why is it cold? where does it come from? how do we know? Stuff like that.
On Wednesday night I got an email from Bill O’Donnell, Park Service ranger in charge of the National Park Service portion of the event. “I hope you have a Plan B,” he wrote. “The water’s up at Alley, and we may have to move the event higher on the hill. It will be too far to walk to the spring.”
Gulp. Ok. We came up with a Plan B. Each class of 15 to 30 some students were to be at a learning station for 15 minutes before moving on. I could handle a Plan B.
I drove down Thursday evening. Life being what it is, I ran late, and it was dark by the time we reached Sinkin Creek on Highway 19. I strained to see the water level, but couldn’t.
I’ve been going to Alley Spring since 1969. I probably could drive Hwy. 19 blindfolded, steering by the sway of the sinuous switchback curves, though it’s much safer to do so eyes wide open with highbeams on full.
Crossing the Current River always makes me misty. When I looked left, the three swiftly moving patches of mist weren’t fog off Round Spring at all, but two adult and one yearling dappled gray wild horses moving at a fast pace to the north.
Being as it was only the second time in 40 years I’d ever seen them, I took it as an auspicious omen.
As I paid the breakfast bill, I asked the waitress if the kids were back in school. “Yes,” she said, “but they don’t like that they’ve got to make up those two days later.”
I admitted my mission, and she said, “my daughter has a field trip out there today. She was so excited, they’re likely to be running around like wild Indians out there.”
Fourth and fifth graders don’t scare me. I’m taller than most of them. But just barely.
Upon arriving, we tracked down Bill. “We’re back to Plan A,” he said. The water was up to the school earlier in the week, but it’s back where it belongs now.”
I helped put up tents, and we scrounged a table. “We” being myself and husband Eugene. “Plan B” had turned out to be a groundwater model, a contraption sort of like an ant farm for water, with clear sides so you can view a moderately accurate representation of how and where water travels in karst — Ozarks country with sinkholes, springs and caves.
We borrowed it from his employer, so he came along to be “Mr. Science” and operate it. Instead of filling 15 minutes, I only had to cover 7 minutes for 7 different groups of kids. A piece of cake. By the end of the day, his hands were stained blue, green and red from the various food colored water representing good water, runoff and human polluted effluent.
Along the way, I got to meet Rosanna Hernandez, the other organizer from the Jacks Fork Watershed Committee. What a delightful woman! We had a chance to talk once or twice…just as I wear several hats in different disciplines, she admitted to being an art major who was now running an environment education program.
Many of the other presenter were old acquaintances: Steve Bost, Matt Kantola and Jim Newberry of DNR-State Parks who presented “Snakes Alive”.
Brad Conway, Dena Matteson, and Dave Tobey, all of Park Service I’d either met or worked with in the past, and Jody Towery,Park Service, who I knew only by virtue of winning aTraveler Reader’s Choice Award for her rangering.
Libby Sanders and Jamin Bray of the Bonebrake Center in Salem were there —Libby led a game about pesticides, and Jamin talked water quality and played Earthball.
Susan Farrington of MDC, who told the kids about plants I don’t think I’d ever met; however, it came to light that her husband, Dan Drees, had been park naturalist at Meramec State Park 25 years ago whenmy life took a serious turn for the outdoors. Speaking of cavers, old friends Jon Beard and Roy Gold from Salem Plateau Grotto helped out with more underground information. The eagle ladies from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield were there, albeit off in the distance and our paths didn’t cross. Kevin Keller, Leslie Koch Ringer (?), a few new Park Service faces and a gentleman whose name escapes me but who was with the Texas County Extension rounded out the presenters.
We can’t overlook Paul O’Donnell, either. Paul is Bill’s son. He kept the day on track by faithfully ringing the Storey’s Creek school bell every 15 minutes to keep the teachers and the kids moving.
There will be an official news release in a few days. Right now, the rosters of students we talked to included classes from Winona, Summersville, Bunker, Willow Springs, Raymondville, Eminence and Green Forest.
After our short session at the table with the groundwater model, it was very gratifying to see the kids take off at a full run for the real thing.
Though the spring flowed a muted tea-green, in great gouts over the spillway, and probably six feet higher than normal,rather than staring at the sky with the placid milky blue eye it normally does, the sun shown, the breeze was cool and the kids learned something both with their minds and hearts about being outdoors.
That’s the main thing.