Upper Elementary Adventure Trip

Every year about this time a very special event takes place: The Upper Elementary Trip. It is a week long and takes place at a rotating outdoor learning center. This year they are at NatureBridge – Olympic National Park. The whole class goes.  And there are no parents. However, Miss Rebecca sits down each night and sends the whole CRMS community a rundown of the day.  These are so enlightening and fun to read, I thought I’d re-post a bit of what she wrote here. Enjoy!

After a breakfast of pancakes, sausage, fruit, cereals, and OJ, we met in the classroom to get the background story on the Elwha River and the removal of its dams. The 100 year old dams had reduced the salmon runs from 400,000 salmon to 3,000, and had limited a river system of 70 miles of streams to 5 miles. As a result, the whole ecosystem had been marginalized and sacred lands of the local tribes flooded. The electricity that had been so valuable a century ago was only enough to power half of a paper mill today. Back in 2010, it was also ‘shovel ready’ due to the mounds of research that had already been completed. So the dams came down. The engineering of dam removal is a scary looking process itself, but they were dealing with so many unknowns. As a result, there are many scientific studies in progress in the area now. One of these involves what is happening to all the silt that had been piling up behind the dam over the last 100 years. We are talking about many Safeco Fields full of an ultra-fine silt that usually flows out into the ocean, nearly invisible. Just as the kids had seen in the stream table in the River House, a deep, huge delta has formed in the Elwha and a big beach that had disappeared when the dams were built now lines part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Part of this natural construction is made of this fine silt. Today we got to see the actual process that we had modeled on the table. Very cool. The funny thing is that the scientists don’t really understand what had been happening to all that silt originally! Where had it been going before? Releasing a century’s worth of it now is going to cause other changes someplace else that they can’t anticipate. For us, all that silt was the force behind four of today’s activities.

To learn where the silt travels, we got to help follow it. We wrote our email address on many cards that we got to throw right into the rushing Elwha. The card material will completely biodegrade in two years but in the meantime will flow to points unknown along with all the silt. As the cards are found on the shores, the hope is that people will notify the scientists and us of its whereabouts so a map can be generated. It was good for the kids to see that much important science is long term in nature and low tech in form.

Secondly, we got to compare the turbidity of the Elwha to that of our earlier samples of Barnes Creek. Wow. There is plenty more silt coming down stream! We also get to compare the data from the gravelometer and the rock point work. More good practical science. It was really fun to watch the confidence with which the kids grabbed the tools and went right to work gathering their samples and data today along the banks of the Elwha.

We drove in two little school buses to visit the Elwha’s delta area and to check out what vegetation is moving in, what experimental plots are there, and what we could find of interest. Lots. (The kids were so excited to ride in school buses but dismayed to find they had seatbelts and that we expected them to actually use them. “What is the point of a school bus if you still have to wear seatbelts?!? It ruins all the fun!”) There were little signs near the river warning about “extremely soft and deep sediments” and both Christopher and Emily told the groups that we needed to avoid walking in the silt mud because we’d sink in and get our boots filled. Well, guess what happened – in both groups independently? Both a boy and a girl walked in the silt mud and got stuck – real stuck. Our third encounter with silt.

In Miss Candy’s group, a girl stepped in to her knee and couldn’t move. Candy couldn’t walk into it to lift her out because she started to sink in too. So the kids brought big sticks and small logs to build a platform for Candy to stand on to get her out. A bit scary? Yep. The stuck one said, “This was definitely in my red zone.”

In my group, a boy had both feet stuck solidly to the top of his shoes. I could straddle the mud but couldn’t lift him out. The kids were grabbing big sticks to use as levers when right in front of me he jumped straight up in the air like he had on a jet pack! He flew right out of his shoes and landed on the regular mud and rocks in a happy heap. There were his shoes still stuck in the mud! We were laughing hysterically. How did he do that?! We had to use the levers anyway because I still couldn’t pull his shoes out!

By the time we all met back at the cabin, everyone in each group was so excited to tell the other group about the silt mud encounter that all 20 of us were talking loudly, all at once. It took a while for us to realize both groups had had had silt mud adventures! You have to admit they were gripping stories.