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Freshwater Festival gets sixth graders’ hands dirty – Park Rapids Enterprise

Sixth graders from Park Rapids, Nevis and Laporte participated in the 25th Freshwater Festival educational event Wednesday, May 18 at Camp Wilderness Scouting Camp.

Also joining in were students from Cass Lake-Bena and St. Philip’s Catholic School in Bemidji.


Century School sixth grader Jack Mitteness digs a hole during a tree planting demonstration for a group of Park Rapids and Cass Lake students as Minnesota DNR forester Kyle Anderson looks on. At the end of the Freshwater Festival on May 18, 2022 at Camp Wilderness, Anderson sent kids home with white spruce seedlings.

Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

The event, held annually except during the past two years due to COVID-19, is organized by the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“It’s nice that we can come back this year, after two years of not being able to come,” said Libby Aman, a sixth grade teacher at Century School.

Aman said it was fun to see her students enjoying hands-on experiences.


James Owens, left, and Lee Furuseth with the Bemidji Science Center talk about “unique water” with sixth graders from Park Rapids and Cass Lake during the Freshwater Festival on May 18, 2022 at Camp Wilderness.

Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Groups of students moved between 10 or 11 stations, including a tree-planting demonstration after which Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester Kyle Anderson sent kids home with a white spruce seedling.

Lee Furuseth with Bemidji’s Headwaters Science Center said their demonstration, titled “Unique Water,” is about “how water acts differently than any other molecular structure.”

Itasca State Park naturalist Sandra Lichter gave an “animal adaptations” talk featuring Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon.

“We’re going through how their bodies developed and how deep they can dive,” said Gabe Sturtz, another sixth grade teacher at Century School.


Ross Johnsrud, left, retired from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Park Rapids field office, and Minnesota DNR forester Corey Kimball talk with Tammy Ott’s sixth-grade students from the Nevis School about forest soils during the Freshwater Festival on May 18, 2022 at Camp Wilderness.

Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

DNR forester Corey Kimball co-presented on forest soils with Russ Johnsrud, who is retired from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Park Rapids field office.

“It’s pretty exciting to see how interactive the kids are and how much knowledge they actually have in sixth grade,” said Kimball.

He explained the connection between forestry and soil science, noting that different types of forest grow in different types of soil.

“You have a wet soil – that creates the ash, tamarack, black spruce forest,” he said. “Sandy soils create the pine forests. Then, the clay type soils, you’ll have the maple and oak type forests.”

Johnsrud talked about how glaciers affected the soil composition of the area, the depth of the topsoil in different areas, and how a Norway pine transpires 500 gallons of water a day.


Calub Shavlik with Minnesota DNR Fisheries shows Libby Aman’s sixth graders from Century School the difference between male and female black crappie during the Freshwater Festival on May 18, 2022 at Camp Wilderness.

Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

“Where does that go? The clouds,” he said. “And where does that go? It comes back down in rain. So, the water you had this morning to brush your teeth with, was probably the same water the dinosaurs were swimming around in.”

Johnsrud also compared the particle sizes of different soil types to things students could see and touch, like a soccer ball for a sand particle, a tennis ball for a silt particle and a BB for a clay particle. Their forest-soils sessions ended with a trivia game called “Wheel of Knowledge.”

Other NRCS representatives, including Dan Pazdernik and Alicia Laturnes from the Park Rapids field office and Jim Cramton from Bemidji, presented a rain simulator to show how different methods of soil preparation affect the way rainwater filters into the soil. By the end of their demonstration, students had to wash the dirt off their hands.

Meanwhile, Judy Barka with the Northern Center of Agricultural Excellence showed students how to use soil gauges to measure the soil’s density and compactness. Other demonstrations covered such topics as aquatic invasive species and dragonflies.

“It turned out to be a great day,” said Sturtz. “We had the rain earlier on, and we were kinda worried about it, but it’s turned out to be a really nice day, and it’s a great opportunity for the students to get out and learn a little more about our wildlife that we have in our great outdoors.”

“I think it’s a great program,” said Nevis School teacher Tammy Ott. “I’ve been coming here for many, many years for sixth grade, and it’s always an enjoyable time. A great learning experience.”


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