For the last two years I have had the pleasure of taking my Grade 3 students on a daylong field trip to the spawning channels for Walking with Smolts day. We are so lucky to have this opportunity in our community to experience this day.
The concept is that students spend the day immersed in the world of a baby salmon. The adventure starts when we visit several displays relevant to the life of a young salmon. High school students put on skits that taught us the life cycle of a salmon. We also got to examine local bugs (an activity definitely high on a kid’s list of awesomeness!!). There was a display with tanks holding live fry and smolts so that the children could see them in real life and contrast the two different stages.
One of the favourite displays was a miniature town and how the running of the town affected the rivers near it. The kids got to see the problems of pollution and erosion and then were able to move parts of the town around to solve problems hazardous to the eco-system.
Fisheries had a booth where the kidlets could see the effects of ghost nets on aquatic life. The officer explained just how dangerous these unattended floating nets are.
The highlight for all of us was releasing the Coho fry we raised in our school tank. Every student got a baggie of fry that he or she then set free. This caused great excitement amongst my class as they had watched the little fish right from when they were just eggs!
Each student had their face painted by yet another high school student, grabbed a quick bite to eat and then it was time to head on down the “river” path to experience the journey a smolt makes to the ocean.
This is by far the favourite part of the experience for the kids. As we set off down the path, we were serenaded by two violinists. Along the way we were treated to an abundance of volunteers dressed in elaborate costumes in order to give us a real-life smolt experience.
We immediately faced danger as eagles and other birds of prey tried to eat us. As we continued along the path we were constantly on the lookout for dangers. Around another corner a group of frogs hopped out at us and attempted to consume us. Right after escaping the frogs we had to make it through the turbine of a hydro dam (a skipping rope being turned).
One of my favourite moments was coming across a group of very busy “beavers” who serenaded us with a song as they built their dam.
Smolts also face the danger of being eaten by snakes on their journey to the ocean. And we did come across the same papier mache snakes that my class encountered last year. So with the whole paper mache snake encounter behind us, I led my group of smolts happily down the path.
You can only imagine my shock when I came around a bend and came face to face with nine very alive, very large living, breathing Snakes. Real Snakes. Alive Snakes. Snakes that were out of their containers and being handled by students.
As a teacher, you cannot show fear in these situations. But I don’t like snakes. Since I had 23 kidlets staring at me waiting for a reaction, I calmly said, “Cool, can I please hold one?” My smolts and I then spent the next 10 very long minutes passing around these big, living, wiggling snakes.
The journey of the smolts ended with a picnic lunch and a trek down to the Fraser to make an outline of a salmon as a helicopter flew overhead with a photographer to take our picture.
My students came back to school tired but excited about a great day living the life of a salmon smolt. What they learned will be forever embedded in their memory banks.
A huge thank you to the many volunteers who gave up two days of their time there and countless hours ahead of time organizing and planning Walking with Smolts. You provided lasting memories for everyone who attended this wonderful event.