Friday, October 7, 2011

Swan Field Trip

This last Tuesday, Kitty and I headed up to the Swan Valley in the early morning. We sleepily arrived and set up for the field trip and waited for the kids to arrive. As the students rolled out of the bus, their enthusiasm for the field trip was contagious. This group of students had been going out on our WEN field trips every spring and fall since they were in 3rd grade, and were excited to learn more and build upon what they had already learned in the previous years. At the bug station, students excitedly ran over to me, eyeing the waders already. As we talked about the different kinds of aquatic macroinvertebrates in the river, I was surprised by how much the older students remembered. Finally, the students were able to get into the waders and collect the macroinvertebrates in the river. We found so many mayflys! We also found a couple of ‘mystery bugs’ that the students we able to identify through our dichotomous key. As they proudly told me what each bug was named, I was reminded that no matter how much we think we may know about something, we can always learn something new.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Science In The Name of Fun

Volunteer Coordinator Will Ridlehoover braves the clark fork in the name of science!

Adversity often inspires ingenuity. At least it did with Will and I on the Clark Fork last Sunday.
Our weekly Stream Team outing focused on a section of the river just down-stream from the Madison Street bridge, and as with any wide river, the physical attributes of the Clark Fork presented certain challenges for data collection that had to be overcome.

The Stream Team typically examines three major characteristics of the river. Chemical, biological and physical attributes are measured in order to give us an accurate picture as to the character and health of the river. The physical examination is comprised of factors such as water velocity, bank width, water depth and overall morphology or the "shape" of that river's section. All factors are easy to measure in small streams, but a several hundred foot wide river presents a few challenges of equipment and logistics. Luckily, Will and I were feeling particularly industrious that day, and he had some swimming trunks in his car.

Typically the river's depth and width area easily measured with a depth pole and survey line respectively, but the fast moving and especially deep water combined with the extremely wide section we chose to measure made our typical methods impractical. So with a few handfuls of rocks inside of the nylon bag of a throw rope and the use of a sharpie I fashioned a makeshift depth gauge inspired by my youth on the Mississippi river and the endless reminders of how Samuel Clemens chose his famous pseudonym. In the mean time, Will paddled his way across the river with the aid of an inner-tube to fix a static line to the opposite bank and returned to begin the measurement process. Using the static line to hold his position in the river, Will worked his way across and dropped our makeshift depth gauge every "tube width" (3 foot 2 inches) and sounded off a reading to be recorded on shore. Sixty five readings later, we determined the width to be no less than 205.83 feet across and an average depth of around 3.5 feet.

While this data was useful and important to record for many reasons that any WEN volunteer can explain,  the process of collecting it was important for some reasons you may not expect. Namely, it was hilarious. As Will worked his way slowly across the clark fork, the rest of the team recorded the data and chuckled at the increasingly louder depth reports echoing across the water, and the impressed expressions upon the faces of passers by. We always have fun on Stream Team, but when afforded the opportunity to innovate, be bold, and a little bit silly with like minded folks on the banks of a neighborhood river the experience becomes that much more powerful and rewarding. I can't wait for next week, maybe we'll find a way to build a submarine from Tupperware containers and driftwood.

Clinton Begley
Watershed Education Network

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Our Favorite Photos

The photo is one of my favorites. At no more than 5 years old, clad in blue corduroys and a striped red shirt, I stand off balance on the rocky shore and focus on counting the skips my carefully selected stone makes across the river. Just one skip. Behind me, on an upside down bucket, sits my grandpa. With suspenders on, and aluminum can in hand, he counts along with me. I'm fond of the photo for many reasons, but recently I was reminded how much it is simply a great capture of how lucky I was so grow up spending time at the river.

Missouri's North River  | 1986
The reminder came this week when a kindergartner, spoon in hand over a plastic tub crawling with aquatic macroinvertebrates fresh from the Clark Fork asked me: "how did we get so many crawdads in here?" The question was a perfectly rational question to ask. It is the fact that I had the responsibility and privilege of answering it that made me realize just how important the roles of WEN educators really are. And, in the absence of an organization like WEN in my home town, how lucky I was to have that role filled by my family when I was a kid.

Growing up with a small river flowing through our family farm, and the great Mississippi charging south just a dozen blocks away from our house in town I had no shortage of opportunities to experience a river. But most importantly, my family was always there to introduce me to those opportunities, the fun of the river, and it's significance. But not every kid is as lucky as I was, and the opportunities in our own back yards mean nothing without guidance and introduction from thoughtful families, friends and community organizations.

Clark Fork River | This Week

We had a dozen or so pairs of wide eyes, and highly raised hands at Clark Fork this week. But most importantly we had a dozen or so smiles as the four and five year old's caught and counted mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies on the bank of an important river in their own back yard. Because while the youngsters may not retain the exact reason that these creatures are important to their ecosystem, they will certainly remember why the ecosystem was important to them on that warm September morning at the river.

By Clinton Begley
Office Coordinator
Watershed Education Network

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bitterroot River Field Trip

Last week, WEN had a great time leading students from C.S. Porter to the Bitterroot River. We taught them all about the biological, physical, and chemical aspects of their nearby river. Take a look at the day through this video courtesy of Clinton Begley!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Miller Creek Field Trip

 Ever wonder what it is like to be at the river with WEN? Now you can feel like you are at the river's edge with us by watching this great video by WEN's AmeriCorps member Clinton Begley.

Miller Creek Field Trip

Monday, August 29, 2011

Liam Wood Fly Fishers and River Guardians

WEN has created a new crop of fly fishers and river guardians!

Everyday from August 15th to 19th, WEN had the opportunity to teach high school students more about river stewardship through the social lens of fly fishing. It was great to see them in one week learn about the responsibility that comes with fly fishing to protect and care for our local rivers. At the end of the week I noticed a huge change in their attitudes compared to the beginning of the week. I also felt like I learned so much as the week went on; it is amazing what can happen in one week!

My favorite moment of the week: the students peacefully fly fishing at the Bitterroot River on the last afternoon

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

River Poems

In the past two weeks, WEN taught a Words with Wings summer camp session where students learned about the history of the Clark Fork River. Then they reflected on what they had learned and wrote some wonderful poems! Read some selections below:

Kitty Galloway, WEN's program coordinator (left) and Lynne Dickman  (middle)
from Ice Age Flood Institute teach river history to  Sheryl Noethe (right) and the
Words with Wings students

Bret Lunder

What does a river mean to me?

A river means life for fish, water
for ground, food for humans.

A river is what keeps the food chain

Rivers are what give earth its beauty,
its light, its refreshment.

A river is the home for fish, otters,
snails, beavers, many animals.

Without the rivers, the earth would be
dry. Without rivers, there would be no way
for the osprey to find food, no way for beavers
to build their dam, no way for fish to swim.
Earth would be a dry ball of dirt, no grass,
no fish.

Life—that is what a river means to me
and to you.

Shelby Kinch

rushing on
bathing in the
warm sun, a home for glittering scales and
shimmering fins, a place for smoothed rocks.
The river with
the power
of a
to be free
dipping between
rocks, it gently swirls through time, welcoming.
On and on it flows until the sting of
salt burns its eyes.
Peace at last

KoesslerTolleson Knee 

Invisibility itself whips through the air
welded to a fly that is happy when bitten.
Green cord with a mind of its own
hooks onto invisibility’s tail
for a better view
of the monster with gills and fins
that might be dinner.

Fiberglass trees committed for life
to helping the fly and its procession
married to it by silver rings.

When the wheel stops turning
all wait
for a fish to fall
for the bait.

Meredith Walker

On and on
on and on
on and on.

There is a river of power
that runs through Missoula.
Clark Fork is its name.

Home of the trout,
home of the waves,
home of the hearts
of its people.

Kayaking waves, so fun,
mostly manmade
but rapids required.

Cool and favorite haunt of dogs.
Peace, power,
and driftwood logs.

Origin of noise,
it always bustles.
Sandy, buggy, beaches.
Birds call, rushes rustle.

Preserved exoskeletons
and rocks galore,
waves lap against the shore
always changing more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Boy Scouts at SKC!

 This past WEN led the Boy Scouts on an adventure to learn about aquatic macroinvertebrates around Salish Kootenai College. Check out our pictures!

Huston Thompson and Deb Fassncacht led the aquatic
macroinvertebrate station
Students play the Macroinvertebrate Mayham game
Students learn how their bug should move as a part of the
Macroinvertebrate Mayham game
Huston Thompson catches some Aquatic Macroinvertebrates

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WEN heads to Victor School to teach about Groundwater

Like others before it, the early morning began with coffee. I sipped it slowly as we loaded the car. We had a large plastic model town called an Enviroscape, a groundwater flow model, and equipment to help 30 6th grades at Victor School build their own aquifer. Kitty, the Program director, and Hillary, WEN's summer VISTA and I hopped in the car and headed south into the Bitteroot Valley. We arrive in the small town of Victor with early, but circled a few blocks before we finally stopped at a gas station to ask for directions to the school. We pulled up and signed in, admiring the class photos dating back to 1927 on the walls. When we entered the classroom the happy teacher greeted us and we started setting up. The build your own aquifer activity was engaging. Students first tested how much water moved through one of the 4 substrates they had samples of : sand, gravel, dirt and clay. Then they took three of those substrates and made their own aquifer.

We then cleaned up the aquifer and set-up two stations: the groundwater flow model and Enviroscape. I lead the plastic Enviroscape town station while Kitty lead the groundwater flow model and Hillary took pictures. I was a bit apprehensive because it was almost summer and these kids were antsy. I started by introducing the town and talking about 4 types of pollution represented by the acronym ANTS: air, nutrient, toxic, and sediment pollution. Then I directed their attention to the plastic farm and asked why farms are good. The kids immediately started talking about pollution and I realized they hadn't been paying attention. I asked who knew someone who was a farmer and almost all the kids raised their hands. Then I asked again why farms are good. "Food!" shouted one student. "Yes food is very important and all food comes from farms" Then I asked, "What kind of pollution would you find on the farm?" The kids thought for a minute then one kid raised his hand and suggested smoke from the tractor. "Yes," I said reaching into a Ziploc bag I had hidden behind the Enviroscape. I pulled out a bottle of bubbles and asked, "who wants to show us air pollution?" Ten hands shot up in the air. I chose a student and watched as bubbles floated and landed all over the town. The students went on to talk about the benefits of suburbs, logging, factories and trucks. Then they guessed almost every type of pollution. They poured chocolate syrup on the road to represent someone pouring out oil, sprinkled chocolate chip dog poo, spread hot coco powder sediment and Kool-aid powder pesticides. Then I gave two students squirt bottles and the Enviroscape town had a rain storm. Exclamations of disgust rose from the students as dark, murky water flowed down the streams and into the lake. Then I discussed ways people and governments avoid these kinds of pollution through berms, fencing off cattle and other preventative measures.

When it came time to circle up Kitty asked what the students remembered from the field trip I was a bit nervous. They were obviously distracted by the proximity of summer break and I questioned how much they had learned. To my surprise many hands shot up in the air and they began talking about key points about aquifers, groundwater, and the Enviroscape lesson. They remembered that they should recycle oil and not pour it down a drain, and that you shouldn't let your dog poop in the river. I smiled. To hear those kids talk about what they'd learned I knew our lessons were not something they would soon forget. I sipped my last bit of coffee and felt energized, not from the coffee, but from the knowledge that we had made a difference in these students' lives.

Monday, May 16, 2011

WEN is now offering summer day camps!

The Watershed Education Network is excited to announce that we are now offering summer day camps!

River Explorers (ages 8-14): June 20-24 (M-F) 1-5 pm $150
Does your child enjoy creative time outside? During this camp, we will spend the week exploring Missoula’s riverside environments. Activities will include guided observations, field journaling, storytelling, art activities and rich river science topics. 
Watershed Scientists (ages 8-14): July 18-22 (M-F) 1-5 pm $150
This camp is a great stepping stone for all you future field scientists! We will spend the week taking a closer look at the health of our own local watershed. Activities will include in depth water chemistry, aquatic macroinvertebrate (bug) studies, exploration of riparian ecosystems, and more. Students will get to create their own river field science notebook.

For more information or to reserve your spot, contact Kitty Galloway at 541-9287 or

 If these weeks don’t work but you’re still interested, if you have a group of 7+ kids excited about water, or if you have a young river explorer, age 5-8, who wants to learn more about water this summer, please contact us at the WEN office! We may be scheduling additional weeks for more children or younger ages, pending interest.

We hope to see you on the river this summer!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Have you noticed something different about the Prairie?

Sussex School is working hard at the John Pierce Native Plant Prairie! This past Wednesday they continued weeding the area of invasives and began planting native plants. Come by and see the progress they have made in between the WEN office and the river trail!

 For more information about the Sussex School project or WEN's week curriculum, call 541-9287 or email

Thursday, May 5, 2011

3rd Annual Mayfly Fling

WEN's 3rd Annual Mayfly Fling was great! We had so many hard workers who helped put on this annual fundraiser, and it was so great to see all of the community support that WEN has gathered over the years. So many businesses contributed through sponsorships and donations. These contributions, along with the people who attended, will provide much needed funding for WEN's spring and summer watershed education programs. And it was such a fun event on a warm spring day!

WEN depends on generous community donors! For more information about how you can help sustain our watershed education programs contact Deb Fassnacht, Executive Director at 541-9287 or

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day with MUD!

This past week, WEN joined MUD's Earth Day along with other environmental groups in Missoula. Even though it was a chilly day, lots of people showed up and many kids were instantly attracted to our tub of aquatic macro-invertebrates  that we had gathered from the Clark Fork River. Earth Week is a perfect time to learn more about your local watershed! Check out the pictures from MUD's Earth Day below.


Happy Earth Day everyone!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sussex School Adopts John Pierce Native Prarie

Rivers and Plants go together! 
This past Wednesday, Pam and Lisa's class came to explore, observe and document the first signs of spring and new life in the Pierce Native Prairie. Throughout the spring the class will return to this prairie to help restore it to its natural state. While developing this stewardship, they will also learn a lot about native and invasive plants! 

Watch for more plant activities this spring with Sussex School and the Pierce Native Prairie!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Trainings

 Its Spring Training time! To kick off the Spring field trip season, Kitty and Alaina led a training to teach community members and future volunteers about how to monitor rivers and why it is important. At the training we went through all three stations, and even got to get in the river with our waders! The first station was our chemistry station, where we measured the oxygen, temperature, and pH level. Next up we discussed the physical aspects of Rattlesnake creek.  Lastly we got to scoop up some aquatic macro invertebrates and identify them. In our sample we even found a worm! Even though it was a little rainy, it was a great way to get excited for the upcoming season of monitoring our local Montana rivers! 

Kicking up the aquatic macro invertebrates
Identifying the macro invertebrates
at the biological station
At the physical station, volunteers
gather bankful measurements 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rattlesnake School Groundwater Presentation

This past week WEN did 4 groundwater presentations at Rattlesnake School! We taught two different classes in two-part presentations. The first field trip we led an interactive experiment where the students built their own aquifer and explored how water moved through different kinds of sediments. Next, we played the Groundwater Game so the students could see what it was like to be a raindrop moving through the ground (and get out some energy!).  The second day was a presentation of our Groundwater Flow Model which is continually fascinating to both the students and adults.  Check out the pictures below!

Students get ready for the Groundwater Game
Students write about their aquifer experiment
Students watch the water filter through
their aquifers they built
Students build their aquifer with WEN volunteer
For more information about our Groundwater Program, volunteer on a field trip, or schedule a field trip for your classroom, call 541-9287 or email us at

Friday, February 18, 2011

The WEN Team Celebrates 15 Years of Watershed Education!

As we turn of the calendar see 2011 - it means a staggering 15 years since Watershed Education Network’s co-founders, me (Deb Fassnacht) and Wendy Sturgis decided to bring citizen-based volunteer water monitoring to western Montana. Wendy said the fateful words as we formed a board eight years later in 2004, “…it will take about 15 years to get this to be a real nonprofit”. In the meantime, WEN, he 501 (c) 3  has seen a steady increase in the demand for our School Stream Monitoring Program (SSMP) and each of our stellar program coordinators have brought advancements to the program with their expertise and perspectives on rivers. The program coordinators that have moved on to bigger and better things include: Greg Grallo (1997-2002); Sean Sullivan (2000-2007); and Josh Gubits (2007-2011). In this time WEN has grown in our programs: pre-K focus,, wetlands, groundwater, Milltown Dam Journeys, high school  Flagship after school, and summer Liam Wood Flyfishers and River Guardians offerings to get kids out to their creeks.
We warmly welcome Kitty Galloway from Bellingham, Washington as our new program coordinator, She brings her gifts of science education and curriculum building to WEN, along with a great personality. Underlying the water education progress and our ever-evolving process is a key element that isn’t always made explicit. WEN has an incredible team of people. The team of people has been rich in dynamic personalities, age, profession, and background. In the beginning, our team of volunteers included our children, Max and Ben Fassnacht and Wendy’s daughter, Kate Moo
re. We graduated to recruiting community volunteers and University of Montana students. Some are so much a part of the WEN trainings, field trips and Stream Team, they often go unrecognized beyond the twice a year volunteer appreciation party and BBQ.
Yesterday I was reminded of this fifteen year run of attracting talented, thoughtful people to be a part of a very program: ‘we are growing the next generation of watershed stewards’ . Three volunteers came to the WEN office to get a groundwater flow model ready, Vija Pelekis,  Erica Thye, our MTCC VISTA Member, and Vicki Balfour, our Board member. We took care of all the last minute preparations, printing flyers and handouts, packing a ‘build your aquifer lesson’ set of supplies and remembering our new, poster showcasing WEN. Our board member, Vicki Balfour came to provide moral support and leadership. As I watched the packing and preparing, I realized how fortunate I am to work with such incredible team of people. What a gift, to have volunteers that show up on time, with smiles asking, “What’s next”?
As we headed out to make a presentation and share our good work in the community, I was seeing the team through fresh eyes. People are kind to each other, give direction as needed, pick up where each other leaves off, and enjoys the time together doing good, meaningful work. Later after the adrenaline rush of a great presentation was wearing off, we talked over what we did well and what we can do to do an even better job of showcasing WEN’s amazing work. All these ideas and all the brainstorming, bringing new concepts, thoughtful suggestions, and organizational tips to be more efficient is how we have gotten WEN from an idea to where we are.
We look at a calendar already filling with class presentations and field trips. We are digging deep to ask who can become interns and work with more set priorities and schedules. We are expecting good things to come from all the energy, ideas and hard work of this spring, our fifteenth season! It is good to see the energy, enthusiasm and dedication to making water education thrive for students and people in Montana.
 -Deb Fassnacht
Deb is the Executive Director and co-founder of WEN

Friday, February 11, 2011

Groundwater Field Trip Pictures

Check out our pictures from our Groundwater Field Trip!

Deb presents the Groundwater Flow Model to fascinated students
Kitty Galloway explores groundwater layers with students
The Students get ready for the Groundwater Flow Game

Clay sticks close together!
The Groundwater experiment shows how
water moves through sediments

Do you want to learn more about your Groundwater Field Trips?  You can email WEN at or call us at 406-541-9287

Monday, February 7, 2011

Groundwater Field Trip!

Last Wednesday, I joined Deb, Erica, Kitty, and Stephanie at Garden City Montessori for WEN's ground water presentation. What a blast! The students were so engaged and enthusiastic to learn about ground water and Missoula's aquifer. I was happily surprised to see how knowledgeable the students already were about watersheds; one young student even described the movement of water through the landscape from rain to rivers and even included evaporation. Kitty Galloway coordinated some great activities for the kids including an interactive aquifer game. Students were designated as either boulders, sand, clay, or cobble and then the rest of the class acted as rain drops and moved through the different types of substrates as acted out by their classmates. Everyone loved the game and really understood how easy or difficult it is for water to move through different mediums in an aquifer. 

After the interactive aquifer game and a wonderful build your own aquifer activity, Deb wowed the students with the groundwater flow model. Everyone, including myself, was completely immersed in the groundwater flow model. With this awesome tool, Deb showed the students at Garden City Montessori how water moves through aquifers and how groundwater contamination can pollute our rivers and drinking water. I thought the demonstration was particularly helpful to show how the composition of an aquifer will determine the movement of water. It was such a wonderful time for everyone! The kids were so engaged and eager to learn about their aquifer and their teacher, Megan, was involved and continued their groundwater lesson with our Groundwater Flow Model, even as we were leaving. At the end, we packed up and headed back to the WEN office with big smiles and the warm feeling you get from being around kids and their complete enthusiasm for the world around them- including watersheds!

-Vija Pelekis
WEN Volunteer

Friday, February 4, 2011

What's Happening at WEN?

Check out what happened at WEN this past week through our Weekly Update!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Water Poems

These poems were written during the Words with Wings with Missoula Writing Collaborative.  These poems show how much students can understand about their local watershed!

Rushing Dwarf

In the middle I rush
twisting and turning, huge rapids tickle
rock after rock after rock. I
come from the mountains making crests
as I go, white water foam pooling up,
on the sides I break tiny waves calm
here you might dip your feet in the shallow
waters, while my rapids roam one way
shallow waves roam the other we're
connected, I am the river

-Camryn Cooper


Swimming down the stream is like
walking on a balance beam

Going at the wrong angle can get you
into the wrong river and you will miss

You swim through the cold,
mucky, river finding your way home,
moving your tailbone
like mad working upstream to get to
a safe spot to sleep.

But you see an osprey so you hide
under the rocky floor of the river
and wait and wait until the osprey is gone.

You continue up stream until you see
a nice looking fly, but it looks like a hook
is attached, so you continue and finally find
a cave in which to sleep.

-Cody Carlson