More than 100 students touch fish, meet bugs and build model watersheds while learning about river history, ecology and preservation
DANBURY, Conn.. – September 26, 2017 – Third graders from Danbury’s Shelter Rock Elementary came by the busload on a warm and cloudy fall day to gather at the Still River Greenway, where they were greeted by teams of scientists and experts in their local rivers and wildlife. The annual Still River Day event connects elementary students with environmental professionals who are working to restore the watershed. It gives kids a chance to explore a local river that many never even knew existed.
Students began the day learning the Still’s “hidden history” with Danbury Museum historian Brigid Guertin, who led them on a journey from the Ice Age glaciers to the river’s earliest settlements, industrialization, pollution, neglect, and present-day restoration. “This very important piece of our history is also a very important part of our present and future,” said Guertin. “Hopefully, this event will engage kids’ imaginations so we can continue to see the restoration of the Still River throughout their lifetimes.”
Ed Siergiej, chairman of the Still River Alliance, has seen the annual event grow in size and scope over the years. “Thirty years ago, people wouldn’t have believed fish could live in this river,” said Siergiej. “Today, not only have the fish come back, but the Greenway is a showcase for teaching the next generation. They’ll be the ones to take the story of the Still to the next level.” He credits much of the event’s growth and success to the involvement of the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) which coordinates and secures partnerships for the event.
“The Housatonic Valley Association sees the potential of the Still River to connect our communities from Danbury to New Milford” said Courteny Morehouse, program manager for HVA on Still River projects. “Watching these kids exploring and enjoying the watershed gives us great hope for the future.”
Western Connecticut State University students Sandra Zapata Ramirez and Brittany Schappach introduced students to “friendly” arthropods – beetles and roaches – encouraging kids to shed their fears and let the bugs crawl on them. It was the perfect icebreaker for talking about another more serious arthropod- Deer Ticks – and how kids could identify them and prevent the spread of Lyme Disease.
CT DEEP Department of Fisheries gave kids the chance to look at fish up close and even to touch the scales and barbles of catfish and longnose suckers. “I love the reactions when kids touch a fish for the first time,” said Fisheries biologist Brian Eltz. “That moment of ‘wow’ is a perfect spark for discussing healthy streams and a healthy environment.”
Mark Horvath and Neil Stalter, both representing Candlewood Lake Authority, led students through activities using a model watershed that demonstrated stormwater runoff, pesticide and fertilizer use, and ways to cut down on pollutants that cause algae blooms and beach closures. “We like to get students excited about environmental science,” said Horvath, “so they take these lessons home to their parents and encourage them to make smart decisions about how they use chemicals on their lawns.”
Liz Campbell, a third grade teacher at Shelter Rock summed up the day. “This trip was amazing! It was educational for the kids. They were fascinated. They loved it. I know they learned a lot, and I know I learned a lot too.”
The event was possible again this year through the support of the Pitney Bowes Foundation and Union Savings Bank.
“We are so pleased to support this outstanding nature-based education program that engages students in STEM learning activities while helping them learn to be stewards of the environment,” said Kathleen Ryan Mufson, President of the Pitney Bowes Foundation.
“Even the threat of a cloudy, rainy day couldn’t keep the students from Shelter Rock Elementary School away from the Still River Greenway event held in Danbury,” said Michele Bonvicini, Executive Director of the Union Savings Bank Foundation. “We are thrilled to partner with The Housatonic Valley Association to provide our local students the opportunity to participate in an outdoor classroom setting and explore all types of nature and even how to preserve the environment for future generations.”