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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Engaging people with science, stewardship

Middle school students capture stream insects on Marcy Brook. (Photo provided —Tyler Socash, Adirondack Mountain Club)

Educational programs at the Ausable River Association are essential to protecting the clean water, healthy streams and diverse habitats of the AuSable watershed. They inspire responsible stewardship in our communities and among visitors young and old.

AsRA’s strength as an organization comes from our science and field-based approach. We know our watershed — its lakes, streams, and wetlands, their health, and their ability to support the diverse array of wildlife and human communities that rely on them.

We use that same strength — scientific intimacy with a subject, infused with a passion for sharing knowledge — to inspire understanding in people through our educational efforts. We think that there’s nothing more exciting and engaging for kids and adults than to learn about water quality or fish habitats directly from a scientist and in the very watershed where they live, hike, paddle, and bike.

We also provide information at traditional venues-science fairs, farmers markets, and local events — and we provide in-school teaching and outings. Below is a sample of our 2021 projects.

In July, we were able to resume Discovering the Ausable: An Aquatic Stewardship Program in partnership with the Adirondack Mountain Club. This week-long, interactive program is an adventure in camping and aquatic stewardship for middle-school teens age 13-16. This year, nine participants explored the AuSable River watershed with AsRA staff while learning about aquatic ecology and participating in water quality experiments. Campers have fun with peers while developing paddling skills and learning physical, chemical, and biological sampling techniques.

This summer we also worked with the Lake Champlain Basin Program to develop an incredible teach the teacher program. The Lake Champlain Basin Educators Summit was originally scheduled to take place in October 2021, but safety concerns led this event to be rescheduled for 2022 at Fort Ticonderoga. The summit will showcase educational programming and teaching modules created by nonprofits around the basin for K-12 teachers across New York, Vermont and Quebec. The workshop we developed provides training in environmental site investigations and show teachers how to use a stream table to teach kids about stream health.

And this year we continued our popular river tour programs — guided hiking, paddling, naturalist, and ecological field experiences. With funds from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, AsRA’s staff and professional naturalists partnered up to provide education and stewardship activities. Each tour combined demonstrations of basic principles of hydrology, ecology and biology while exploring the wonder of freshwater streams, lakes, their inhabitants and the incredible value they provide to our communities.

We began the season with a drawing workshop led by artist and biologist Cris Winters. Dr. Larry Master, a zoologist and Ausable River Association board member, led the next three tours: two birding walks and a bat and moth research night. It was a pleasure to welcome Ed Kanze back for a second year of river tours, this time as a leader for a tree identification hike. AsRA staff led a waterfall hike and paddling trip on Lake Everest. We finished the season with a riverwalking tour, paddling mussel identification trip with Master, a history tour with Stephen Longmire and a women’s fly-fishing clinic.

River tours are free to the public, and every spot filled well in advance. Stay tuned to our website for a listing of next year’s events.

Liz Metzger was our 2021 river steward. In its 11th year, the river steward program brings a post-college temporary employee to AsRA for the summer to focus on the invasive species and outreach to river users — spreading the clean, drain, dry message. This year, the river steward brought that message and general education about the watershed to farmers markets, the Wilmington Festival of Colors, and the Lake Placid Community Day. Metzger led some well-attended invasive species plant pulling events with community members and coordinated a day long paddling river clean-up with ecology students from SUNY Plattsburgh. These kids seek out trash with gusto and make a tangible difference for the river.

In the autumn, we hosted students from Clarkson University to tour our stream restoration sites. They learned firsthand how rivers work and how we can protect and restore their form and function and establish dense riparian buffers of native species — all to build climate resilience. The students toured a recently completed river restoration project in the hamlet of Keene. After the field trip, they held a virtual workshop with AsRA staff to inform a class project developing a watershed plan for the St. Regis River.

Informed and engaged people — young and old — are essential to the active stewardship needed to protect our streams, lakes, wetlands and floodplains into the future. Supporting the outreach and education programs of the Ausable River Association allows us to continue and expand our efforts.

(Carrianne Pershyn is the biodiversity research manager at the Ausable River Association.)