When was the last time you really looked intensely, and considered the complexities of something familiar? It doesn’t happen so often, but what a joy to have all your senses trained on a single object! Thirty local residents took the time last Saturday by participating in the Friends of Sugar Creek’s one-day summer float camp called Kids, Canoes, and Crinoids. Twenty kids and ten adults assembled to paddle down Sugar Creek, observing and exploring our local waterway. The six-mile excursion from the Old Coke Plant to historic Yount’s Mill started with some canoeing instruction and water safety. Canoes and kayaks would be our modes of transport, but only the beginning of our voyage of discovery .
As we launched our fifteen-boat flotilla, participants took advantage of calm water spots to practice basic paddle strokes and boat skills. As the group began to work its way down river we listened to, and identified, the songbirds, wrens and cardinals among others. A bald eagle swooped near. Through the filtered sunlight, our expedition watched keenly for turtles and herons. The creek showed signs of recent heavy rains with mature trees uprooted along the banks. At one point, we had to portage around a huge sycamore that had fallen across the creek. Back and forth, our boaters meandered, losing and finding the navigable channel. Along the way, our group stopped for three sandbar learning activity breaks.
At the first stop, a gravel bar down river from the 136 bridge, Mike Mycroft (DNR Wildlife Manager) led a session about wildlife habitat, and the creatures that call Sugar Creek and its banks their home. He surprised everyone, as he pulled a collection of mammal pelts from his dry bag. Mink, bobcat, otter and beaver furs were passed around for the group to handle.
At the beginning of the trip all participants were given a Ziploc bag filled with creek related information and study tools. In the bag was a booklet illustrating the tracks that these mammals would have made. Several set out looking for footprints in the sand, and deer tracks were spotted before we were called back to the boats to continue our journey downstream.
Near the Morris-Jacks Bridge, Angie Williams (Water Quality Specialist) taught the group how to assess water quality by identifying underwater critters. With specimen nets and magnification jars, we lifted rocks and collected insects, larvae, and wormy creatures. Among the collected invertebrates were mayflies, stoneflies, and Dobson fly larvae--organisms most sensitive to pollution. The fact that we found them, and that they were thriving, meant that there is little pollution in that portion of the Creek. That called for a snack celebration.
Near the Rails to Trails Bridge our boating party made its third stop. Retired North Montgomery Science teacher, Karen Thada, led the group back in time through our geological history. She talked about how long ago what is now Indiana was part of a great sea, and later in time when glaciers moved across this land, bringing and leaving rocks from Canada and Michigan. Our group hunted for crinoids, broke open geodes, found shells, and discovered brachiopods.
Back in our boats, we passed fisherfolk, witnessed an eagle scoping us out, and headed for our final destination, Yount’s Mill. First order of business was lunch, and after five hours exploring Sugar Creek, lunch tasted great. Lunchtime merged with a living lesson as Friends of Sugar Creek board members, Alan and Brookie White, led the group in a tour of the mill. Also co-owners of the mill, they shared their knowledge and historic documents with our group, ending our daylong water camp with information about the creek’s role in the economic history of Montgomery County.
What a pleasure it was to focus deeply on the beauty, history, geology, and wildlife of our living stream. If this sounds like fun, watch for next year’s event…sure to be bigger and better.
Doug Calisch is a Friends of Sugar Creek board member.