A public that understands the Basin’s water quality and resource management challenges as well as possible solutions can make informed choices about protection and restoration. Organizations and institutions throughout the Basin are working on many fronts to educate citizens of all ages. Through formal education programs in classrooms and camps and with outreach efforts at public events, partners are equipping citizens to take action and change behavior to improve water quality.
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
School programs that educate young learners about watershed issues play an important role in addressing the Basin’s challenges.
Developing an understanding of watershed science at an early age is critical to fostering stewardship of natural and cultural resources. Instruction in classrooms and field settings that is centered around rich watershed content equips young citizens to make informed choices about their personal actions. Educating these young learners creates a powerful multiplier effect as they share information and values with family and friends.
The Champlain Basin Education Initiative (CBEI) continues to train teachers in place-based watershed education. Thirty-three educators have taken the year-long Watershed for Every Classroom professional development program since 2015. This comprehensive course offers in-depth exploration of the Basin’s natural and cultural resources. Hundreds more educators have attended one- or multi-day sessions with CBEI partners and teaching institutions. After actively engaging with scientists and other specialists during these programs, each teacher shares the newly acquired knowledge with as many as 200 students each year.
Students also learn while participating directly in projects that benefit the watershed. More than 20 New York schools and 40 Vermont schools in the Basin have worked with the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Vermont Trout Unlimited Chapter on the Adopt-A-Salmon and Adopt-A-Trout programs. Through these programs, fish eggs provided by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are delivered to classrooms in January. Students care for the fish through the winter and release them in local streams in late spring. Collectively, volunteers from Trout Unlimited teach more than a thousand middle and high school students about watersheds, river habitat, water quality, and fishing.
Watershed Alliance, a program of the University of Vermont Extension and Lake Champlain Sea Grant, offers programs that educate students and provide citizen science opportunities. More than 2,700 students participated in a water quality monitoring program since 2015. The program begins with classroom-based watershed lessons, after which the students visit local waterways, collecting physical, chemical, and biological data that is uploaded to online databases.
Students get hands-on experience in lake ecology aboard the R/V Melosira. Photo: Lake Champlain Sea Grant.
Public outreach programs educate and inform all citizens about watershed issues.
From the smallest lake association to the largest non-profit organization, nearly every group working to improve water quality and habitat in the Basin has offered outreach programs. The long list of efforts conducted across the Basin includes school and camp programs, river steward initiatives, rain barrel and green infrastructure seminars, and outreach on lake-friendly lawn care. The LCBP alone awarded 58 grants for nearly a half-million dollars between 2015 and 2017.
In recent years, many larger organizations have expanded public programming opportunities and field experiences designed to get more people out on the Lake to enjoy its scenic beauty while learning new information about waterways. These organizations include Lake Champlain Sea Grant, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Community Sailing Center (Burlington), Fort Ticonderoga, Lake George Association, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM).
With its fleet of nineteen boats, LCMM provides school and community rowing programs throughout the watershed; each season, the programs serve more than 700 students and 500 adults. Nine high schools and two middle schools now have student rowing teams, thanks to LCMM’s support. In 2015, LCMM brought long boats to New York for the first time, supporting a successful program in the village of Champlain.
In 2017, the LCBP’s Resource Room at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington welcomed more than 30,000 guests. These visitors learned about watershed issues and about personal actions that can have a positive impact. Each year, Resource Room staff also conduct programs on Lake and Basin issues for schools, community groups, and visiting watershed managers, including those visiting via international exchanges. Resource Room staff develop interpretive materials and highlight events and volunteer opportunities around the Basin.Recent years have seen a growing effort by partners throughout the watershed to educate the public about threats posed by aquatic invasive species. The Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College, the Lake George Association, the LCBP, and numerous small lake associations and watershed organizations have operated steward and greeter programs. These programs place staff at boat launches to share information with lake users about invasive species and the steps individuals can take to prevent their spread (Figure 16).