Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Conservation Technician Lucas Bateman shows Twin Bridges’ students a whitefish during Kids’ River Resource Day at the Hamilton Ranch in Twin Bridges Sept. 17. PHOTO BY HANNAH KEARSE

A conservation education

Kids’ River Resource Day

Wildfire smoke filtered the sunlight on the crisp morning of Kids’ River Resource Day Sept. 17. The day warmed as Twin Bridges’ third and fourth graders learned about conservation at the Hamilton Ranch in Twin Bridges.

Students rotated through four stations spaced out around a section of the Ruby River. The annual educational event typically hosts third through fifth graders from several schools. But Twin Bridges was the only participating school for the Ruby Conservation District’s 16th annual Kids’ River Resource Day.

Tim Gander and Lucas Bateman with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks waded into the water’s riffles with a large pole to collect a bucket of fish. The electric shock seemed to wear off by the time the bucket was placed on the table, as Twin Bridges’ students peered into the splashing water.

After a few drops from a brown bottle relaxed the fish, hands plunged into the water containing a large whitefish and several small brown trout. FWP recently restored the section of river. They replaced the muddy riverbed with native gravel to improve spawning habitat and restored the shore with vegetation for bug hatches to feed the fish.

According to Bateman, only a few adult fish were found in that section of the Ruby River two years ago, before the restoration. But the bucket full of juvenile trout, which twitched in students’ hands, indicated a recovering fishery.

Around a large bend upriver, Jarrett Payne with FWP brought students to the riverbank to show them riparian plants. He taught them how to identify riparian grasses.

“Sedges have edges. Rushes are round. And grasses have stems that are hollow all the way to the ground,” Payne said.

Students learned about compost at another station. They pulled dirty items from a bin to determine if it was compostable. Kaleena Miller with Montana State University Butte showed the Twin Bridges’ students how compost and worms create a healthy foundation for plants.

A large bison hide and skull covered most of a table at another station. Students combed their fingers through the thick brown fur as they asked Bill Stender from the Snowcrest Ranch questions. Stender explained bison history in the valley and the biological traits of the massive animal, like its quickness.

The Kids’ River Resource Day’s smaller participation allotted students more time at each station. Laughter and squeals occasionally pierced the soft murmurs of the informative stations as students touched things unusual to them -- the loose teeth on a bison skull, the protective slime of a fish, the mud of a riparian area, or the questionable items in a compost bucket.

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