Canoe, check. Paddle, check. Lifejacket, check. Sunscreen, check. Microscopes, check. WHAT? You heard right! The second annual Kids, Canoes, and Crinoids event sponsored by the Friends of Sugar Creek got underway one recent Saturday morning (July 20th). Twenty adults and seventeen kids in a flotilla of canoes and kayaks laden with six field microscopes and numerous specimen jars, nets, whistles and snacks headed downstream from Ye Old Coke Plant.
At the launch, the group learned about boating and river safety. Once on the water, the paddlers practiced maneuvering their vessels. Then we let the current carry our fleet downstream to a nice sandy inside curve. There, Michael Mycroft, DNR’s District Wildlife Biologist, spoke to the group about natural habitats. Keeping his feet cool in the creek shallows, he produced one hide after another from a dry bag: beaver, raccoon, and mink. Then a river otter, and bobcat skin appeared. We considered the ways the creek was central to their livelihoods, then hunted for tracks in the sand.
It being very hot, we chilled for a while by and in the creek, then continued on our way. We spotted turtles sunning themselves and snakes swimming briskly along. A bald eagle or two flapped overhead. Around a big bend and into a babbling riffle, we pulled out for our second tutorial. Angie Williams, clean water specialist, told the group how finding certain small invertebrates in the water were markers of the creek’s health. She challenged the group to catch and observe these aquatic critters. Kids bustled about lifting rocks and dipping their nets to examine bugs and larvae. Based on our impromptu survey, in that spot, on that day, we pronounced the creek healthy.
After some fun in the rapids, it was back in the boats to cover more water miles. Shortly before lunch, the flotilla made its final stop at a gravel bar, this time to search for fossils. A duo of retired Middle School science teachers helped us imagine a long-ago time—millions upon millions of years ago—when what is now Indiana was part of a great inland sea. Science teachers Karen Thada and Leslie Warren explained the characteristics of many fossils in the Sugar Creek Watershed. Before long, kids and grownups alike were scouring the shore in search of these relics of an earlier world. Crinoids, horn coral, and geodes were discovered and shared among our fossil hunters.
Farther downstream, several Friends of Sugar Creek had prepared a delicious meal—grilled hotdogs, macaroni salad, and iced watermelon. As a hungry crew of well-traveled sailors portaged their boats to our end spot, plates of food were devoured and events of the day replayed.
In the end, kids, teachers, parents, and weary river rats meandered back into their more pedestrian Saturday lives, having acquired a deepened sense of the present, and ancient, households of our extraordinary creek. One excited child exclaimed, “Whole new worlds came alive!” By all indicators, the expedition was a great success. Watch for Kids, Canoes, and Crinoids 3.0, coming next July.
Doug Calisch is the secretary to the Friends of Sugar Creek