Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, May 15 newspaper on Page A1.

NELSONVILLE — A group of third graders waited in anticipation as they watched hundreds of small minnows dash left and right in a tank, knowing soon that they would be able to touch the small creatures and learn about their qualities.

This was one of 28 stations at Waterfest, an engaging and educational program that emphasizes the crucial role of water in life cycles. Over 500 third graders from throughout Athens County gathered Tuesday for this annual event and were led through stations that emphasized different aspects of water including fishing, water conservation and soil quality.

Waterfest was held on Hocking College’s campus at Robbin’s Crossing, and was hosted by the college’s School of Natural Resources as well as the Athens Soil and Water Conservation District.

“It’s really a celebration of water in all its different uses and its different forms,” said Teresa Caldwell, an organizer who serves as conservation education coordinator for SWCD.

Ryan Harris from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife taught students about fishing safety at his station. Harris brought in live fish so students could observe them up-close.

“Most of these kids, especially in our area, have some experience fishing or will,” Harris said. “So it’s important for them to know for their safety when they deal with fish, how to handle them.”

Several stations engaged students through interactive activities such as bracelet making and an opportunity to touch minnows. Morrison-Gordon Elementary School student Cory Swatzel said he enjoyed the games at the stations.

“I realized you can make fun out of learning about water,” Swatzel said. “We got to play different games and we got to make bracelets.”

Presenter Jamie Dahl, the forest outreach coordinator at Central State University, said she believes in the importance of educating youth on environmental conservation and that Waterfest is an opportunity to do so.

“We tried to make sure to talk about what are the things that you can do, even in your day-to-day life, to help take care of water,” Dahl said. “We tried to talk about the forests here as well, and the important role that trees and forests play in the water cycle and protecting our water.”

The event included a demonstration from Steve Kane about hunting dogs and their capabilities. Kane brought several of his dogs, including his German wirehaired pointer Lizzie, who retrieved a rubber duck from the water and showed students her obedience. Kane said his dogs are both trained hunters and loving house pets.

Additional presenters at Waterfest included professionals from Greening

Youth Foundation and the Athens City-County Health Department.

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