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FAR Summer Ecology Camp: Summaries of Activities at Alewife Reservation
July 5 - August 12, 2011
updated August 16, with August 8, 10, and 12 summaries

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Mystic Workshop summaries are below

Ecology Camp

Tuesday, July 5
Orientation began extremely well. Ellen began by telling the youth about the Friends of Alewife organization and the part it plays in the Ecology Camp. Jamie and I then explained what makes this camp so unique, and discussed the value of learning about green jobs and environmental sustainability. Ellen rounded out the discussion with a PowerPoint presentation about the Alewife Reservation.

After going over the safety procedures and other guidelines in the handout, we showed the youth around the office and explained their daily routine. Anna, our MSYEP counselor, came to discuss timesheets and to say hello to everyone. The kids then had lunch. Although only 9 of the 15 came the first day, they were all extremely well-behaved, and most of them seemed very interested in learning about ecology. Sam spoke with Ellen during lunch about his interest in ecology (and law).

In the afternoon, we walked down to the Reservation and played the pole game to get the youth oriented and comfortable with the Reservation. Ania and Johannes hid their flag so well that no one could find it! They made their directions clearer, and we finally managed to retrieve the flag. We then went for a walk all the way to Little Pond; along the way, Sam picked some sumac that he said he uses to make tea, and Yearwood took a number of great pictures. Although it was hot and muggy, the kids all completed the walk with limited complaints. However, we will need to always make sure that we have more than enough water.

We ended the day with some journal writing about our experience that day, and our expectations for the rest of camp.

Wednesday, July 6
Alton Cole arrived this morning and gave us a talk about pruning. He told us the best part of his job is that he gets to be outside all day, and the pay is not bad either! Alton also showed us some of his hand tools that he uses on a daily basis. We then walked to the Reservation, where Alton demonstrated how to use all of his tools, including clippers, pruning sheers, and pole saws. He also showed us how to recognize a healthy tree and a sick tree. Each youth practiced with the tools, and then we went into the Reservation where we really got to try our hand at pruning, particularly on a small tree with dying branches. I was very impressed with Connie for jumping right in and trying all the tools, even though it was her first day!

After lunch, Don McCasland came and showed us a PowerPoint presentation on the Blue Hill Observatory. Many of the kids were fascinated by how large some of the kites at the Observatory can be, and all of the different information they can tell us about the weather. We then went into the hallway and made our own kites. Don went through the process step-by-step, so that by they end, everyone had a well-made kite. We walked to Danehy Park (Anna came as well) and flew our kites for over half an hour. John's kite flew extremely high right away. Although Johannes' got tangled at first, we fixed it and he did very well. Connie, Yearwood and Samih enjoyed using some of the larger kites Don brought from home.

We ended the day with some journaling about the new green jobs we learned about today. Ellen said goodbye to the youth because she is leaving for Vermont on Friday. Jamie and I reminded the youth to do their chores before they left, and we ended the day with a clean and organized office!

Friday, July 8
Before any consultants came today, we spoke to the youth about the variety of books on the table in the conference room, and encouraged them to check one out if they are interested. They youth also used their journals to come up with questions for our first consultant, Paul Roberts. Paul arrived soon after for a presentation on hawks. Unfortunately, there was a thunderstorm outside, so we began inside. Paul provided a number of fascinating stories about Buzz and Ruby, the hawks that built a nest on the 185 Building across the street. The youth were completely engaged in Paul's presentation — his humor and animated storytelling really drew them in; Nico found the information about hawks coming into conflict with mockingbirds fascinating! We tried to play a DVD but the computer could not read the DVD, so we decided to try heading outside. After handing out binoculars and giving the youth a brief overview of how to care of the equipment, we went across the street and began our search for hawks. Unfortunately, after an hour of searching, we could not find any, but we did see some mockingbirds and a pretend owl used to scare away real birds! The youth enjoyed the time outside after spending two hours in the conference room, and loved using the binoculars, which we had them clean and return safely to the storage room.

After lunch, Jamie and I divided up the youth. Jamie took six of the students to our community garden plot, and I kept six in the conference room to work on the Wiki. Jamie's group had a discussion about the environmental, economic, and personal benefits of the garden, and they then weeded the plot. My group divided into pairs, were given their topics, and began to write their web pages. The internet was working some of the time, but not always, so we decided to just write our web pages on Microsoft Word and we will transfer them to the wiki later. Jamie and I will need to solve this internet issue before we use the wiki next.

Jamie and I then switched places; I took my youth to the garden plot to discuss the value of community gardens and begin planting, and Jamie's group worked on the wiki. Ania and Sam had gardening experience, and helped teach the others how to plant our lettuce, tomatoes, and basil. Mat found a number of interesting items in other plots, including hot pepper and a giant zucchini!

At the end of the day, we discussed the idea of the youth doing outside research at home. A number of them came up to us at the end of the day and requested doing various topics that relate to what we are learning about next week. We cannot wait to have them share their research!

Monday, July 11
Today was all about sustainability. Liam kicked off the topic with a brief presentation on what sustainability means, which led to an interesting discussion about how we can each be sustainable in our own homes. Jason Taylor then arrived for his lesson on energy sustainability. Jason was extremely energetic, and he kept this kids' attention for the entire three hours. He discussed how to be energy efficient in one's own household; he gave the kids a "kill-a-watt," a device to measure the amount of energy being wasted when you leave an appliance plugged in overnight. He told us we should all be "vampire hunters," hunting the "vampires" that such energy and money out of our homes.

After lunch, Adrien Tofighi came to talk to us about his international sustainability work in Haiti. He had a powerpoint that explained his work, as well as the work of other international environmental workers. Some of our students are from Haiti, and found the lesson particularly interesting. Adrien mentioned a number of simple conservation techniques that he helped initiate in Haiti, and then told the kids about programs they can do abroad if they are interested in similar work.

When Adrien finished, we had time leftover to create posters to put on the bulletin boards by the Reservation. Each of the students answered the question "Why is the Alewife Reservation important?" and included pictures of the Reservation in their posters. We plan to put these posters up on Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 13
Our group was smaller today because five of our campers left at 9 this morning to attend the Mystic Youth Program. After they left, Yohannes started our day off with a presentation on sustainable lumber, and how carpentry can be considered a green job. Then, Russ Geer, a park ranger for the DCR, came to give us some background on the history of the DCR and the Reservation. He is a very engaging speaker, and the kids listened attentively. We then walked to the Reservation, and repaired two bridges along the trail to Little Pond. The kids enjoyed hammering new wood planks into the bridges, although they clearly wished there was even more work for them to do. After repairing the bridges, Russ took us for a walk though the Silver Maple Forest, and he taught us how to recognize these trees.

Before lunch, we cleaned the bulletin board by the Reservation and put up the posters we made on Monday. They kids enjoyed seeing their work, and were proud of our clean-up job.

After lunch, George Mokray arrived for a lesson on solar energy. He taught us all that solar energy is more than just solar panels — we need solar energy for everything from growing food to breathing in oxygen. After a powerpoint presentation, we went to Danehy Park and performed a scientific experiment; we made three solar cookers (one with a clear bottom, one with a black bottom, and one with a black bottom surrounded by foil) and tested them to see which reached the hottest temperature. We learned that black absorbs light, which creates heat, and adding foil increases the head even more.

Friday, July 15, 2011
Today began with Anna's presentation on accountability — she had the youth perform a number of group games and exercises which really woke them up! After she left, I stayed with half the group to work on the Wiki, and Jamie took the other half to the garden, and then we switched. We finally got the Wiki to work by using the wireless! The kids posted most of their Wiki pages from last week, and even began some new ones. At the garden, we finished planting the vegetables, and had a conversation about the value of organic and local foods. I took the kids to Whole Foods, where I had them see who could find the most local item Connie won, finding something from Cambridge!

In the afternoon, Tom Conlin arrived and taught all of us about photography. He showed us his cameras, and then we discussed what one needs to pay attention to when taking a photograph (composition, light, etc.). He showed us a number of photos from National Geographic, which the kids were very impressed by.

We then walked to the Reservation and spent about half an hour taking pictures. Some of the youth used their camera phones, and others used the FAR camera or my camera. Shiann took a beautiful photo of a small flower, and Ania even used Tom's film camera to capture photos of various ferns.

Monday, July 18
Although the weather reports predicted thunderstorms all day, we actually had a relatively rain-free day! David Craft came in the morning and took us on an edible plant walk through the Reservation. We walked all the way to Little Pond and then cut through the Silver Maple Forest. We found over 30 edible plants, and everyone tried at least 3 of them! Liam and Arjun were particularly daring, trying nearly every plant. There were a lot of mosquitoes, but the kids did their best to stay focused during the entire morning.

After lunch, we returned outside for an orienteering lesson with Larry Berman and his wife Sara Mae. First, Larry gave each of the kids a compass and taught them how to use it. We then played a compass activity in a nearby field, which involved navigating from one post to another using a compass. Larry and Sara Mae then showed us a number of topographic maps, and taught us how to read them. Our final activity was a small orienteering course in the woods. It was fun to learn what real orienteering is like, but it was also difficult keeping track of everyone in the woods. However, every student completed the orienteering course, and all felt very successful. Nico even spotted a turkey while we were working! All in all, it was a very fun and active day!

Wednesday, July 20
After the Mystic kids left with Tom Conlin in the morning, Steve Gillies came and we all walked to the Reservation together. We stopped at Yates Pond and Jamie spotted a heron. Then we went to the Reservation and took the path to Little Pond. Along the way, we spotted a number of snails, Arjun found a clam that we later identified in our guidebook (we assume it was pried open by a raccoon), deer tracks, a groundhog, and a blue jay.

Steve ate lunch with us and we discussed the Museum of Natural History and what we can expect to find there on Friday. Many of the kids have been there before for school, but Steve told us there have been a number of changes recently that we can look forward to. Steve also had each student pick an animal from a list of animals that live on the Reservation. Each student will present on that animal at the Museum Friday.

After lunch, Steve left, and we all worked on the wiki, and then went to clean up the kiosk by the bridge. We took down the old materials, and planned how were wanted to redesign it. Unfortunately, we ran out of staples, so we will finish on Friday! Upon returning to the office, we had the kids begin researching their animals for Friday. I can't wait for our first field trip!

Friday, July 22
Anna started the day off with a lesson on communication at work. We played a variety of games that taught us the value of polite but clear communication. We then had the youth read an article about taxidermy and the Harvard Museum of Natural History to prepare for today's trip. After completing the article, we played a game with the kids in which they had to identify as many of the plant and animal species on the Bertucci's mural as they could. We gave them each a poster-size version of the mural, and numbered each species to see who could identify what. I was so impressed with the number of species everyone got right!

We then walked towards the T stop, and finished decorating the kiosk before heading to Harvard. We met Steve at the Harvard kiosk, and then had lunch outside (in the shade!). Steve spoke with us about Harvard while we ate. He then took us to the Museum, showing us a number of tree species on the Harvard quads. At the Museum, we all went immediately to the New England plants and animals in the exhibit, and had each youth present on their animal. I was so impressed with most of the students' research.

After giving the youth some time to explore the rooms more independently, we walked through the glass flower exhibit together. After this, it was time to say thank you to Steve, and head home. A very hot but ecology-filled day!

Monday, July 25
Jamie was not here today, unfortunately, because of a rollerblading accident. When the kids came in, they seemed very sleepy, so we played a quick game of "Wa" (a game that involves speaking and moving) to get their blood flowing. Arjun then began the day's educational activities with a brief lesson on GPS and GIS. I then had the youth fill out a worksheet I had created with terms on stormwater management (terms such as stormwater, EPA, DPW, Clean Water Act). They tried to define the terms on their own first, and then we discussed them together. I had them read the stormwater brochure created by FAR, and we also read a letter Ellen wrote regarding the sanctity of the wildlife on the Reservation and how we must protect the wildlife during creation of the new stormwater management plan. The youth were very interested in this new stormwater plan and how it will affect Alewife. I then had them fill out a similar worksheet on water quality terms (such as pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, conductivity).

After a quick break, we watched a film on the woodcock that I had been meaning to show them ever since Steve Gillies came and led us on a wildlife walk (during which he mentioned the woodcock). I had the youth answer questions as the watched to keep them engaged. The kids really enjoyed the movie! Liam told me afterwards that he liked learning about how cutting down and/or burning parts of an older forest can actually benefit the ecosystem.

Catherine Woodbury came at 11am and discussed sewage, stormwater, and the stormwater plan. She showed us a video by the EPA on wetlands, and then answer a number of questions the kids asked. I was so impressed by their critical questions. Shiann even asked point-blank how the plan would affect the wildlife in the Reservation. We then used an enviroscape model to see how the runoff of pesticides, fertilizer, and other chemicals and waste impacts our water system. The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity (especially Jonathan).

We all had a quick lunch, and then walked to the Reservation to meet with Matt Wilson for a lesson on water quality. He gave us some background on what it means to test for water quality, told us a bit about his job (they were all very curious about how much he earns for testing water quality), and then we went down to the boat launch and collected a sample of water. We tested that sample for turbidity, pH, and other measures of quality. The kids were interested in the topic, but I believe they would have focused better if we could have each tested our own sample of water, rather than all crowding around one sample.

We then returned to the office to find we were locked out of our room! However, I called the office manager and we were let in within 15 minutes. I was very impressed with the students' patience!

Wednesday, July 27
Today was all about macroinvertebrates! Arlene Olivero came and began our day with a powerpoint presentation. She taught us some basics about the organisms, and then gave us details on how to identify specific macroinvertebrates. Each student took very detailed notes during this presentation, because they all know they will have to present this material to the Mystic Youth next Wednesday. We then walked to the Reservation and had the kids identify different macroinvertebrates in Arlene's vials. Using this information, they also learned how to determine water quality. I was so impressed; by lunchtime, the kids were identify almost every macroinvertebrate correctly!

After lunch outside on the picnic tables, we went to the canoe launch to collect and identify some macroinvertebrates. Arjun was willing to go deep into the water with his boots on, but he accidentally fell and got soaking wet! However, he remained upbeat about it, and was luckily wearing dry shorts under his jeans. We found lots of scud in the water, and ultimately calculated that the water at the canoe launch is "poor." At Yates Pond, however, we calculated the water to be (just barely) good. We found many diverse macroinvertebrates at Yates; Shainn found a (dead) crawfish, and Samih caught a fish! We also admired a heron from across the pond. When we returned to the office, we put stickers on our map to note all the different animals we saw today. I cannot wait to teach this activity to the Mystic Youth next week!

After lunch outside on the picnic tables, we went to the canoe launch to collect and identify some macroinvertebrates. Arjun was willing to go deep into the water with his boots on, but he accidentally fell and got soaking wet! However, he remained upbeat about it, and was luckily wearing dry shorts under his jeans. We found lots of scud in the water, and ultimately calculated that the water at the canoe launch is "poor." At Yates Pond, however, we calculated the water to be (just barely) good. We found many diverse macroinvertebrates at Yates; Shainn found a (dead) crawfish, and Samih caught a fish! We also admired a heron from across the pond. When we returned to the office, we put stickers on our map to note all the different animals we saw today. I cannot wait to teach this activity to the Mystic Youth next week!

Friday, July 29
Today began with a lively, interactive presentation by Meg Tabacsko about sewage and how Deer Island filters our sewage. She taught us some pretty gross facts about sewage water, which (hopefully) taught us all the importance of not flushing trash down a toilet or dropping things into storm drains!

After her presentation, we all headed to Deer Island to see the actual facility. The journey took a very long time (we had to wait for a bus in Winthrop for an hour). However, the kids were in high spirits; we all played team games and talked together while waiting. Once we got there, we did not have as much time as Jamie and I would have liked, but we still managed to walk around the perimeter path on the Island. I gave the youth a scavenger hunt to fill out as we walked around the Island and read various informational panels. We even had some time to walk around the beach and see if we could find any trash (we couldn't!). By 2, it was time to head back. Jamie and I reminded the youth to continue to prepare for any presentations they plan to give next week on either a book they read or a subject they researched.

Monday, August 1
We had a morning of creativity and artistry with Pepper Greene. We met her on the Reservation, and she promised that, by the end of the day, we would all realize that every one of us is an artist. We began by drawing various objects on the Reservation with charcoal, and then we developed our favorite object using a variety of supplies. I was especially impressed with Samih's picture — he claimed at the beginning of the lesson that he was not an artist, but then he drew a colorful, detailed picture of the Reservation! After lunch with Pepper (and a talk about CSAs), Anna came to do a presentation on interview/job application skills. The kids were ALL actively participating. I then worked with seven of the kids who are going to present information on macroinvertebrates to the Mystic Youth on Wednesday, while Jamie worked with the others on editing and adding to the wiki. Busy, productive day!

Wednesday, August 3
I was so happy with how today turned out. The Mystic Youth (from Malden and Belmont) arrived at the Reservation at 10AM. After we introduced ourselves, our youth led a 20 minute presentation on how to identify macroinvertebrates. The Mystic Youth took detailed notes so they would be able to identify these organisms when we went into the Alewife Pond in the afternoon. We then divided everyone into groups and had them identify vials filled with different macroinvertebrates. With our youth's help, they all became very comfortable with identifying each type of macroinvertebrate. Jamie and I also walked from table to table, checking answers and facilitating. It was such a pleasure watching our youth interact with and assist new people.

After lunch, we split the kids into two groups — half went to Yates Pond with Jamie, and the other half went with me to the canoe launch. After 40 minutes, we switched locations. We then all returned to the picnic tables to compare our findings. We found a lot of scuds, just as we did last week, but we also found some leeches and red bloodworms. Both groups found similar readings on the water quality at the canoe launch (pretty poor at 2.1), but we got different readings at Yates (one found the water to be "poor" at 2.1, the other found it to be "good" at 2.7). We discussed why Yates Pond might have slightly cleaner water than the canoe launch (lake of water circulation, trash, etc).

After the Mystic Youth left, we all returned to the office to journal about the experience and watch a brief video on biodiversity. All in all, a very successful day!

Friday, August 5
We started the day with Mat's two presentations. He first discussed artificial photosynthesis research, and then answered a question he's had all summer — why have the crickets begun chirping so much earlier than usual? According to his research, the hot weather has brought them back earlier than usual.

After going over logistics for the farm trip and boat tour on Monday, we divided the kids up — I stayed with half to work on the wiki, and Jamie took the other half to the garden. We got a lot done on the wiki — Jonathan and Arjun added a variety of Picasa photos, and Liam and Ania created a new homepage for our website. Arjun and Johnathan even edited some previous entries.

I then took my group to the garden, which has grown so much since our last visit! We have a number of tomatoes that I hope will ripen before next Friday, our final day. We did a lot of weeding, and then walked to Whole Foods, where I gave them 15 minutes to spend $25 dollars on fruits and veggies. They had so much fun shopping and made such healthy, inexpensive purchases that I plan to do the same activity next week.

Jamie and I then gave a powerpoint presentation on fungi — as I told the kids, our plan was to put the "fun" back in "fungi!" The kids enjoyed looking at photos of various local mushrooms — they were both fascinated and grossed out!

After lunch, we all walked down to the Reservation, where Larry Millman gave a talk on mushrooms (with a number of visuals to keep the kids focused). He showed us a slime mold which Arjun correctly identified (and won a small magnifying lens as a reward!). We walked through the maple forest and looked at other fungi, and Larry explained what the "teeth" on some fungi do. We ended our walk with a look at some black, inky fungi, which the kids were very interested in. The kids were somewhat distracted by the end of the walk, but Tina (who was volunteering), Connie, Arjun, Liam, and a number of others asked some great questions!

Monday, August 8
Jamie and I met the youth, along with Steve Gillies, at 9:15 in front of the Porter Square T Station. Unfortunately, two of the youth (Liam and Samih) did not arrive on time, and we had to leave without them. However, they had been given clear instructions on how to meet us at the farm if they arrived late, so we hoped we would meet them there.

After a ride on the commuter rail (which we really enjoyed because of the beautiful day), we walked about a quarter mile to Codman Farm. Laurie, who works to promote the farm, met us in the office. Once we put our things down, she took us on a tour of the farm. She showed us their cows, pigs (they just had new piglets!), ducks, and other livestock, and gave us a tour of the community gardens. We loved seeing community gardens other than our own, and found a number of vegetables and fruits growing that we had not seen in the Fresh Pond Community Gardens.

After the tour, Laurie put us to work! We helped the farmers lift bales of hay from a truck onto a loft in the farm. We used a system in which Jamie, Arjun, Steve, and Jonathan put bales on the conveyor to the loft and Ania, Yohannes and I organized them on the loft. It was hard, sweaty work! Ania said it gave her a new appreciation for just how hard farmers work.

After our stint with physical labor, we had a nice lunch outdoors on a set of picnic tables. Durin this time, Steve told us a little more about his past work on the farm, and the value of CSAs. Once we finished eating, Steve took Yohannes and Jonathan to feed the pigs, and Laurie had Jamie, Ania, Arjun, Jamie, and I begin cleaning up and repainting a number of old wooden signs they had in their shed. We had fun using screwdrivers and hammers to pull out old nails on the signs.

After another hour of work, we had to clean up and say goodbye to Codman Farm and head back to the city. A lot of the kids said they couldn't handle the hardworking life of a farmer, but they were all glad they had learned about what it would be like!

Wednesday, August 10
Today Ellen returned from Vermont to help us begin to wind down our summer. We began the day with our much-anticipated canoe trip around Little Pond. At 8:45, Jamie took four campers with her to walk to the canoe launch. At 9, Ellen, drove 4 other to the canoe launch, and then returned to collect the remaining 4 campers, while Emma rode her bike.

The canoe guide came later than expected, so Jamie and Emma spent the interim time dividing the youth into groups and having them prepare what they wanted to do with the Russell Youth Center kids when they arrived on Friday. After a few minutes of planning, Kevin, our canoe guide, arrived. We helped him unload the seven canoes, and then he gave us a lesson on safety and paddling. Everyone was so excited to get in the water! We split into groups of 2 or 3 and began getting our canoes in the water with Kevin's help. Even though we know the water is polluted, the surface looked so calm and peaceful, and the weather was perfect. We canoed together around the perimeter of the water, and even ventured into the Alewife Brook. We saw a number of geese, and Samih's boat spotted a heron.

After a bit of free time to canoe on our own, we headed back to land, put the canoes back on the trailer, and headed to the office. After a quick lunch, Ellen led a group discussion in which the youth reflected on the camp, and what they liked and did not like about the experience. I was very proud of many of the youth's thoughtful responses. Sam said he would have liked more actual activities rather than so many lectures, and a number of kids specified which lessons they liked or didn't like and why. Jamie, Ellen and I took notes so that we can help to improve the camp for next year.

Friday, August 12
Today was the last day of camp! Jason Huang from Boston Latin came with two members of his club which focuses on recycling and waste clean-up. I brought his group and four of our youth to the Reservation, where we planned to clean up some of the waste on the trails. We used our hands (with gloves) and other tools from the shed to pick up trash, and we put them in trash bags that we brought. We filled three bags of trash in little over an hour. This activity really showed the kids just how much work needs to be put in to preserving the Alewife Reservation.

After cleaning, we met the rest of the group at the picnic tables. They had spent the morning preparing for the arrival of the Russell Youth Center. At 11am, 14 youth and two counselors arrived, ready to learn about the Reservation. We split them into three groups - each went with a different group of our kids. One group began by teaching the kids about our lesson on kite flying and the Blue Hill Observatory, and had them try flying the kites we had made. Another group took kids on an edible plants walk, and had them try sorrell and other plants David Craft showed us. The third group began with an art project similar to what we did with Pepper Greene, and had them draw objects from the Reservation.

After an hour of trail walks, crafts, and other activities, the kids came back to the picnic tables for a delicious lunch we had prepared, which included Bertucci's pizza, salad made from items in our community garden plot, tomatoes from Steve Gillies' garden, and much more. Ellen spoke to everyone about the Reservation and the importance of preserving the land. Our campers and the Russell youth sat together, getting to know each other better. Consultants from the summer, including Steve Gillies and Arlene Olivero, came for lunch and to see us one more time. MSYEP counselor Anna came as well!

After lunch, we all sat in a circle on the grass, and our youth went around and said one important thing they learned this summer. Connie ended the speeches by telling the kids to never lose their enthusiasm and creativity, and to always remember to appreciate nature - an important final thought. We said goodbye to the youth, and then it was time to wrap up our camp experience. Ellen gave a brief speech about the Reservation and the value of the camp, and then Jamie and I handed out awards for each of the campers.

We cleaned up the office, and then gave the kids a chance to say any last thoughts to each other. Liam made some especially thoughtful remarks about how he felt everyone had come together as a family throughout the summer, and how he would miss everyone. Then we said goodbye to our campers, and goodbye to another successful summer at FAR!

Mystic Workshop

First Mystic Workshop - July 13 - Tri-CAP
This was the first day of the Mystic Watershed Program, a joint effort by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mystic River Watershed Association (MRWA) to spread awareness about stormwater pollution. Students from Cambridge, Malden, and Chelsea met at the Tri-CAP office in Malden. To kick it off, we learned about some environmental basics, like topographical maps. To demonstrate the concept, we did an activity where we built our own landforms with cardboard pieces and the ndrew the 2-D topographical map that would represent this landform and show its altitudes. Next, we learned about watersheds and stormwater. To visualize these, we crumpled newspaper into balls and placed them into a large plastic box. We lined the top of the newspaper balls with a garbage bag, creating a landscape. With a spray bottle, we sprayed blue-dyed water into the box, representing rain. We watched as the droplets ran down the grooves and gathered naturally in mini-ponds or lakes. The area of land from which stormwater runs of into a common body of water is referred to as a watershed. Next, to demonstrate the hazards of pollution, we added salt and oil - common substances found on our roads - to areas of our watershed. We saw that when it rained, the stormwater pulled all of this pollution into the lake or pond, drastically changing the makeup of the body of water. Lastly, we placed sponges at points near the lakes, and we noticed that when it rained, the stormwater would get filtered before entering the lake.

Next, we talked about the Mystic River and questions we had about the watershed and MyRWA. To conclude, we walked up to Malden Point, the highest point in Malden. From there, we had great views of Boston and all of the surrounding area.

Mystic Watershed Workshop - Chelsea Public Library, July 20
We started off by listening to Beth, the outreach coordinator at the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA), explain what MyRWA does. MyRWA relies on a network of volunteers to take monthly readings on water quality at a number of base points around the watershed. The compiled data-set provides an overview of the current state of the watershed and can be used as support for watershed-related legislation.

Next, we discussed what factors determine water quality. First, a water tester should observe the surroundings, like wind, temperature, presence of wildlife, proximity to industrial areas, etc. After obtaining a water sample, the tester should note characteristics like color/opacity and smell. Then they test for pH (should be about neutral/7) and nitrate content (should be low). Nitrates are critical nutrients for sustaining life, but too much in the water, such as when fertilizer runs into it, risks eutrophication. Lastly, the water is tested for dissolved oxygen. Plants expel oxygen and animals use up oxygen, so the dissolved oxygen content measures the water's net productivity and potential to sustain wildlife. Higher concentrations of dissolved oxygen are better, and below 5 mg/l shoots a warning flag. We measured dissolved oxygen through a starch indicator titration by adding acid, an iodine compound, a starch indicator and some other chemicals and then titrating it with a base.

After lunch, we went to nearby Mary O'Malley park, where we split into groups and performed the above-outlined procedures for water testing. We found the water to be of decent quality, at least near the shore, possibly because it is saltwater so the tides frequently wash pollutants out to sea.

Mystic Trip - Mystic River - July 29
On this trip, te Cambridge, Malden, and Chelsea students gathered to perform more water testing. We took a boat from the Schrafft Center at Sullivan Square out into the Mystic River. We went upstream and through the Amelia Earhart Dam. As soon as the locks opened, we noticed a few differences between the salt and freshwater. The freshwater (upstream from the dam) was shallower and murkier, and there was more vegetation present, and we saw birds like terns and ospreys. We stopped to begin our water testing.

There were four stations for testing pH/ammonia, salinity, turbidity, and GPS location. We measured pH and ammonia with the test strips, salinity with an electronic gauge, turbidity with a secche disk, and location with a GPS. We conducted these tests at three locations up and down the river, then returned to shore to analyze our findings.

We found that pH and ammonia were at similarly decent levels on both sides of the dam. Salinity was, of course, higher in the saltwater, and turbidity was lower as well. We discussed some of the issues we saw along the river, especially with regards to the industrial portion. We noticed an alarming amount of smoke and some dumping.