In 2014 we received generous support from Grayson National Bank to expand the participation in Trout Unlimited's Trout in the Classroom program. Their support allowed us to install two more tanks: one in Mrs. Murphy's 4th grade class at Piney Creek Elementary and one at Mr. Horton's Galax High School Ag class, for a total of three 50 gallon tanks including the one managed by Mrs. Perry's 7th grade class at Grayson Highlands. Each 50 gallon tank included a chiller/pump, an oxygenator, and a multi-tiered filtration system to recreate ideal brook trout raising conditions.
The Trout in the Classroom program got off to a slow start last fall. After getting all of the equipment up in running in November, we had to wait... and wait... With all of the time to wait, the students created fintastic background artwork to raise the fish in. The "habitats" were complete with hand drawn rocks, aquatic plants, along with friendly and predatory fish.
We specifically wanted brook trout eggs, not rainbow or brown trout. The brook trout eggs from Marion Fish Hatchery ended up being a month and a half behind schedule, arriving after the winter break. When they finally did arrive they were hatching as we put them in the tanks!
Over the course of the spring the students diligently tracked the water quality, fed the fish and cleaned the tanks. The eggs hatched to alevin and then grew into fry and finally one inch fingerlings! All three classes did a fintastic job managing the tanks, but the difficulties of raising a high mountain cold water fish in the classroom proved too much. All three tanks had catostrophic collapses in April, teaching the kids a hard life lesson. Luckily the Marion Fish Hatchery came to the rescue and supplied each of the devastated classes with new fingerling brook trout!
After feeding the fish for three weeks, Mrs. Murphy's 4th grade class released their young into Potato Creek a few miles from the school on April 27th. Twenty-three very well behaved and enthusiastic students lined up along the creek to watch their trout swim off in to small pool beside a rock ledge. We then swapped shoes for waders and conducted a macro-invertabrate survey in the streams riffles. Each student learned to use a dichotomous key to identify the insect larvae. We ended up with just enough time for each student to get in the water, no doubt the highlight of any 4th grader's day!
Mr. Horton's class at Galax High School took a more scientific approach, completing the insect survey and stream assessment metrics last fall and then again this spring to determine suitability of the habitat for brook trout. As diligent as they were in caring for the fish they had a second tank collapse and lost all of the fish. On the scheduled release day we picked up another 75 brook trout fingerlings from the hatchery and took them straight to the creek. Unfortunately the trip was too long and we once again we had a die-off, losing 25% of the fish. The rest were successfully released into the stream! Mr. Horton plans on continuing the project in hopes of establishing a brook trout population in the stream in the years to come. Many lessons learned will be applied to next year's tank.
Being short on available time, Mrs. Perry's 7th grade class at Grayson Highlands School released 50 brook trout into Wallen's Creek behind their school last Friday afternoon, May 15th. After a year of ups and downs the students were excited to send the fish into the wild. Hopefully these fish thrive in the water as much as the kids did!