Through the life of trout, students learn a lesson
That's how Chris Alexopoulos, a fisheries and wildlife specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, described the months-long effort students at Pownal Elementary School undertook in raising brook trout from eggs, which culminated with a release of the trout at Broad Brook Thursday morning.
Fifth-graders gathered at the trail entrance at about 9 a.m., wearing personalized, colorful paper hats in the shape of fish.
The fifth grade spends months observing the growth of the trout, gathering data about water quality and mortality — some fish die before being released.
This is the school's third year participating in the program, which is also conducted nationwide, said Alexopoulos, who works out of the Manchester District Ranger Office.
Out of 204 trout eggs, 172 brook trout raised at Pownal Elementary School survived, said Michael Carrano, a teacher at the school who participates in the program. Traci Cristofolini and Kaitlyn Hunt are the other participating teachers.
A program like this presents an opportunity some students haven't had before.
"A lot of them have never been in the woods, or a stream," Cristofolini said.
Thursday morning, Carrano handled the blue cooler containing the trout, helping direct students in using small plastic cups, partially filled with water, to transport trout to the brook for release.
The brook has all the ingredients for an optimum trout habitat, including cold, clean water and boulders, which help maintain the stability of the river.
Most of the trout raised by the students were between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 inches — an impressive length, Carrano said.
How do they have so much success?
"A lot of vigilance in caring for them," he said.
Fifty-gallon tanks require an exchange of 5 to 10 gallons of water on a biweekly basis to ensure top-quality water chemistry, Alexopoulos said.
The brook is one of the best in the state for brook trout, Alexopoulos said.
Before setting off down the trail, Alexopoulos told the students that the trout they had raised would live another three to five years in the brook, and would grow to a length of about 6 to 8 inches.
"They've got a pretty bright future," he said.
As the first trout was taken out of the cooler with a small blue net, it was measured on a wooden board with markings.
It was 3 inches.
"Wow," said Alexopoulos.
The trout program is important, as it ties students to public land — the students release the trout in national forest land, he said.
"They're really getting a grasp on the importance of water quality," he said . "These students have ownership; [they are] stewards overseeing the first stage of this trout's life."
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BEN_pleboeuf and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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