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Celebrating 30 years of Conservation Days in Otter Tail County

Every spring, fifth graders from across Otter Tail County converge on the Walker Lake Fish Hatchery. They quickly settle into groups to learn about the natural resources that surround them in their communities, from the fish in the lakes and stre...

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Soils jeopardy with the NRCS staff gets fun and competitive. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Every spring, fifth graders from across Otter Tail County converge on the Walker Lake Fish Hatchery. They quickly settle into groups to learn about the natural resources that surround them in their communities, from the fish in the lakes and streams to the trees in the woods, the water they drink, the soils that grow abundant crops, and the importance of recycling. Conservation Days, is put on jointly by the East and West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation Districts, along with help from the East and West Otter Tail University of Minnesota Extension offices. Together with the Department of Natural Resources, Otter Tail County Recycling, the Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force, and East and West Otter Tail NRCS staff, put together a variety of stations to introduce students to the importance of natural communities.

Thirty years ago, the original Conservation Days founders got presenters together and convinced schools across the county to attend, starting the tradition. Little has changed in the format and goals of the program in the past 30 years and stands as a testament to its worth in our community.

At the soils station, kids get competitive in a game a jeopardy, answering questions about our soils, crops, and what farmers are doing to conserve soil. The NRCS staff has fun tripping up the kids, especially when they hold out a small handful of dirt and ask "How many organisms are in this much soil?" The answers range from two to two million, but rarely do they get the correct answer of one billion bacteria and other miniscule creatures.

At the forestry station, a DNR or SWCD Forester teaches them about how trees grow, what they are used for, and how they manage the forests of Otter Tail County. They work together to form the trunk of the tree, with everything from the bark to the nutrients being sucked up to the leaves.

The next station is often the loudest, as they race through various products to figure out what can and can't be recycled with help from the Otter Tail County Recycling Center.

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Another especially important resource in Otter Tail County is water, not only for recreation but for drinking, and the next few stations reflect this. In the fish hatchery they learn why the DNR stocks walleye and look at the eggs up close. At another station they learn about rivers while observing a miniature stream. The Extension offices set up the importance of clean and fresh drinking water by having the students taste not so clean water (which always ends up with at least one student spraying the garlic-tasting sample all over). To wrap up the stations, the schools gather as one group to learn about aquatic invasive species and to always clean, drain, and dry boats to keep invaders out of our lakes.

The day ends with each student receiving a Norway pine seedling to plant, along with a small snack to reward their hard work.

Related Topics: OTTER TAIL COUNTY
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