More than 100 fifth-graders from all the Valley County schools had a beautiful day last Thursday to learn about soil and water and the growing things that inhabit their landscape.
Their day began at East Side School with the annual rite of passage for fifth-graders: eating bugs. MSU Extension agent Roubie Younkin extolled the protein value of the mealworms ground up in her banana bread and the crunchy ants in the Rice Crispy treats. The kids learned there are legally acceptable levels of insect parts in foods like peanut butter and wheat, and, surprisingly, in juice.
Then the buses headed south to Kiwanis Park at Fort Peck, where in small groups the students rotated around different activities. The Natural Resources Conservation Service sponsored the annual field day with other agencies.
The first thing the students saw was the way different soils absorb rain. Mark Henning and Mike Lackner of the NRCS sprinkled water on trays filled with bare tilled soil, and sod from a no till pea field, a no till wheat field with straw, over-grazed range land and CRP. Water and mud ran off the tilled soil and hardly sank in. The next trays of soils were increasingly absorbent, with CRP the best.
Another water exhibit was presented by Ann Kulczyk of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. A special trailer was filled with sand molded into a miniature landscape, complete with two river beds, bridges, toy vehicles and houses. One river meandered past bushes and trees, the other ran straight and fast in bare banks. Running water flowed through the rivers to demonstrate healthy riparian areas versus flooding and erosion around the bridges.
Big fish cruised in a stock tank provided by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Fish biologist Tyler Haddix lifted up a shovelnose sturgeon to show the sensitive barbels under its mouth, and the toothy northern pike, the common carp, which he said is considered a delicious game fish in many countries, and the goldeye. which has teeth on its tongue.
Samar Fay / The Courier
During the Valley County Conservation District’s field day, students stroke the soft fur of a coyote held by Abel Guevara, BLM wildlife biologist.
Roubie Younkin and Shelley Mills of the MSU Extension office had kids ranging all over on a scavenger hunt for 20 natural items like a smooth rock, a crawling insect, a lizard and a bird feather. Nearby, the Valley County Weed District was giving pointers on recognizing noxious weeds like spotted knapweed in the early spring. Stone Tihista of the Weed District and Randy Dirkson of the DNRC led the students into the overgrown park to find the culprits.
Glenn Guenther and a paint mare named Boo teamed up to give a lesson on safety around horses and the different kinds of saddles and bridles that horsemen use, as well as how different saddles fit horses’ different shapes.
Coyote skins and butterfly displays were among the diverse offerings shown by Abel Guevara, BLM wildlife biologist ,and Jody Mason, BLM rangeland management specialist. The kids learned about collaring animals to study them, and how collars are sometimes found in strange places like trees, holes and people’s houses. They stroked the soft skins of fox and beaver, and learned that many insects are plant pollinators.