Students of the stream
Energetic educators (pg 2 of 3)
Innovative educators can use rivers to teach
lessons that are full of life-literally. Nancy
Jacobson at Frazee Elementary School saw stream
restoration as an opportunity to teach her
inquisitive fifth-grade class about stream ecology
A failing dam on the Otter Tail River in Frazee
was removed in 1999 after the city realized that
needed repairs were too expensive to justify (see
Red"). After the dam was removed, however, the
river rapidly cut a deep, straight channel through
the sediment that had accumulated behind the dam.
City leaders were concerned about the appearance
and long-term stability of the site, which is
adjacent to two city parks.
The river channel was reconstructed to provide
site stability, better habitat for fish, and more
recreational opportunities for local residents. Two
new meanders were dug to increase sinuosity.
Numerous root wads were put in place to protect
outside bends from erosion. Seven riffles were
built to bring the river back up to its floodplain,
and native plants were planted along the banks and
in the floodplain where the soil had been
Working with the DNR's Stream Habitat Program in
Fergus Falls, Jacobson's class helped with the
plantings in 2001 and 2002. Dogwood and willow
cuttings were collected nearby, taken to the
project site, and planted by enthusiastic students.
The class has also been working with a DNR
fisheries biologist from Detroit Lakes to collect
water samples four times a year, monitoring the
quality and condition of the river. Students
experienced firsthand the lessons of nature,
including harsh conditions when ice augers were
used to drill sampling holes in winter.
Jacobson's fifth-graders learned that restoring
the river made for a more natural, self-maintaining
condition. Since the dam has been removed, fish can
migrate upstream and sediment can travel downstream
without becoming trapped. Students also learned
that restoring the stream made an aesthetically
pleasing stretch easily accessible for recreation.
The large boulders at the riffles and the root wads
provided many vantage points at the water's edge
for fishing or otherwise enjoying the river.
These lessons are ones that they can proudly
share someday with their kids and grandkids when
they visit their fifth grade outdoor classroom-on
the banks of the Otter Tail River.