Building Connections to the Natural World Through Curiosity

This summer we had the opportunity to get our feet wet with new partnerships that connected us to youth in Northeast Michigan.

In August, Huron Pines Water Program Director Samantha Nellis and Huron Pines AmeriCorps member Nick Theisen took to the Thunder Bay River with the Alpena Boys and Girls Club and the Ocqueoc River with the Presque Isle County 4-H to explore the interconnected nature of our environment.

Samantha Nellis, Water Program Director for Huron Pines, assists with macroinvertebrate identification. These aquatic insects can help gauge a stream’s health as their presence is tied directly to water quality.

They showed participants how to measure stream health by studying macroinvertebrates — any river creature without a backbone that can be seen without the aid of a microscope or magnifying glass. The presence and diversity of macroinvertebrates tell a story about the ecosystem. More bugs of various types and sizes means a healthier stream.

GALLERY: Meet the aquatic insects of Northern Michigan’s streams

“Macroinvertebrates are a really fun introduction to stream science,” Theisen said. “They’re so easily overlooked but if you look close enough while flipping rocks or overturning logs, you’ll find more life than you’d ever expect.”

Matthew Jeewek and Emma Kimball inspect a dip net for macroinvertebrates while wading in the Ocqueoc River.

Both groups used dip nets to collect nymphs from the stream and matched their samples to a key to identify each one by its physical characteristics. Kaelie Fessler, the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Program Coordinator in Presque Isle County saw firsthand the impact of this immersive session.

“They were completely intrigued while gathering samples from the Ocqueoc River and equally excited to get out of the water and identify their finds with Samantha and Nick,” said Fessler. “Huron Pines offered an engaging session packed with new knowledge to these 30 youth that will certainly stay with all of them.” Fessler even heard one of the participants excitedly explain that when he woke up that morning he had no idea what a macroinvertebrate was.

The events were funded in part by the Consumers Energy Foundation Planet Award which Huron Pines plans to utilize to strengthen partnerships with communities through education and hands-on learning opportunities like these. New partnerships allow Huron Pines to reach new audiences and achieve our goal of helping more people make meaningful connections to nature. The sight of so many people at the Ocqueoc River drew the attention of some neighborhood youth, who Fessler and Nellis invited to join in on the fun.

“We always say that we want to meet people where they are, to make it easy for everyone to connect to nature so it was really nice to see kids jump off their bikes and join in for the afternoon,” said Nellis.

With curiosity comes increased knowledge. When more people understand how incredible and interconnected the natural environment is, the more likely they will be to take action to preserve and protect it.

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