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FAR Ecology Summer Camp Log - Alan Downy-Wall, Consultant
July and August, 2012
August 3rd- Friday
The day began with a quick pre-camp bike ride to Little Pond to ensure the launch site for our canoe trip was clear. Megan greeted the campers in the office and led them over to the Cambridge-Belmont bike path, where I met up with them and directed the group to the launch site. Once we got to the site we were met with an enthusiastic tour guide, Steve. He spoke briefly to the campers about canoeing safety and then we unloaded and launched the canoes. The campers quickly learned that in order to maneuver well on the water they had to work together. After a little practice, Steve suggested some additional strokes that might help the campers navigate. Then we proceeded around the pond. At several spots Steve discussed some of the local plants and ecology, and even caught a small minnow. We followed the edge of the pond until we found little river, where two swans and three cygnets greeted us! Our time in the pond was concluded with a quick boat race between a canoe with Sumit and Mohit against a canoe with Miles, Eli, and myself. After our exciting canoe trip we walked back to the office, and finished the day with an excellent presentation on networking by Sam from the mayors program.
July 28th- Friday
I joined the campers half-way through the day. However, from those select campers I spoke with, the morning trip to the Harvard museum was informative and interesting. In the afternoon, I brought the remaining fence supplies, and the campers were able to complete the garden fence. After our time in the garden, we returned to the office, where half the campers spent time working to identify plants for their Herbariums and the other group worked with Megan on their insects. To summarize and review the trip to the museum, the day ended with a brief discussion on the campers experience at the museum.
July 25th- Wednesday
This morning we started our day with a walk on the north trail, with a guided tour. We were led by Ann Marie, who shared her knowledge of the local ecology and history as we walked along the path. I found her insight into the history of the land to be particularly interesting. She did an excellent job recounting the shifts in land-use, starting with the Native American occupation all the way to it's present state. In addition, Ann Marie's talk tied in nicely with some of the continuing ecological themes and ideas, established earlier on in the camp. The later half of the day revolved mostly around garden work. Specifically, due to the recent removal of the fence and vandalism in the garden, our priority today was building a new fence. The campers did an excellent job working together to not only put up the fence but complete all the daily garden tasks. The day was finished with the ongoing mayor's office lecture series.
July 20th – Friday
Today we saw one of our fine local gardens. We were led by Steve and Fan, who expertly introduced the campers to farming, specifically organic farming. To start the day on the farm, the campers participated in a few icebreaker games, including a relay race. Then we took a guided tour of the farm. Fan introduced us to many of the plants found on the farm, as well as some of the daily jobs and practices required to run a successful farm. The campers seemed to really enjoy the herb garden, where they were able to pick and try many of the herbs. After a tour of the grounds we walked over to the compost pile, where we collected compost leaves in a wheelbarrow and transported them over to a row of vegetables, which helped protect the soil. Then the group split up into several smaller groups, some of the campers went out and collected vegetables, others stayed in an outdoor kitchen area and assisted Fan in food preparation. Using food collected at the farm or from Steves community plot the campers prepared a healthy feast. The most popular dish seemed to be the Kale “chips” with hummus. Yum! Overall the campers seemed very engaged and interested in the farm, as well as the food. The day was concluded back at the office, where Sam returned to continue his lecture series, this time he discussed the importance of communication.
July 16th – Monday
Today was all about plants. Continuing with our break down of an ecosystem today we discussed the bottom of the food chain, producers. I started with a presentation on plant physiology, in particular the mechanism of photosynthesis. In addition, I tried to stress the important of harnessing solar energy as a source of alternative energy. After the presentation I briefly discussed our agenda for the day, and our plan to journey out into the reservation to make collections for a Herbarium. To prep the campers for the collection I discussed proper collecting techniques as well as some approaches to plant identification. With that we collected our gear and headed out to the field. After finishing the daily garden maintenance we were greeted by the urban forager, David Craft. David did an excellent job engaging the campers and introducing them to many readily found weeds that could be eaten! Many of the campers bravely tried many of the plants David found next to the Garden as well as in the neighboring Acorn Park. David also was very knowledgeable when it came to plant identification, and aided in the campers in their Herbarium collection. Once people had had their fill of weeds we said goodbye to David and continued back to the office where we pressed our collected plants and left them to dry for two weeks. The camper's then finished there day with a presentation by Sam, from the mayors program.
July 13th – Friday
Our day began with a trip on the Boston transit system; however navigating the subway system was just the beginning. We arrived at Deer Island around 10:00 and walked to the waste treatment facility. My initial reaction to Deer Island was a pleasant one. The island is a very nice wildlife area, and has an excellent view of Boston Harbor. The waste treatment plant dominated most of the island, but surprisingly the smell was very well contained to only a few locations within the plant. Once we arrived at the treatment facility we were taken to one of the older buildings on the premise and given a brief presentation of waste management and the general layout of the facility. The campers had fun with the interactive portions of the presentation. We learned in the lecture that roughly sorted wastewater is pumped into the facility at one of two pump stations, and this facility is responsible for treating the greater Boston area. After the presentation we were taken out into the “field” and exposed to several of the critical stages of waste treatment. In the field we then traced the waters journey from the pumps, to the sludge skimming area, to the water cleaning stages, and the alternate route sludge takes to be broken down into fertilizer. I was impressed by the facilities ongoing effort and emphasis on renewable energy, and the number of alternative energy sources that were located on the grounds. Overall, I left the facility impressed with the progress waste management in the Boston area over the past 15 years. Furthermore, I think the friendly staff did an excellent job instilling in the campers the importance of wastewater management and the steps required to properly clean our waste. Finally, we learned some of the little things we could do to help keep our water clean.
July 11th – Wednesday
Today we had a very special guest, Arlene from the Nature Conservancy, joined us today to discuss aquatic benthic macroinvertebrates and how they can be used to determine water quality. Arlene started by giving a brief lecture about insects, highlighting several of the species we might see and their defining characteristics. After the presentation we headed out to the garden and met up with the campers that had been working in the garden. As an entire group we proceeded over to Acorn park where the campers spent the rest of the morning looking at previously collected specimens and identifying each species.
July 9th – Monday
I was greeted today by a handful of new campers, some of them seemed very interested in learning about ecology and the alewife reservation. After a brief introduction, I jumped right into the days topic, nutrient cycling and water quality. In the presentation I discussed the process of nutrients move through an ecosystem(s), and how alewife, as a wetland ecosystem, is a particularly interesting system to study due to the amount of moving water. Furthermore, I introduced several water quality tests that are often done to assess water quality health including; nitrate, phosphate, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, pH, and coliform bacteria. After reviewing the testing protocol with each student in the office, discussing the data collection sheet, and break the campers into groups of 2-3 campers, we proceeded out to the reservation. We walked along the north trail all the way to Little pond to begin our sampling. Once at little pond each group had two students working on testing for each of the indicators of water quality, while the third student recorded the results. Each group also collects metadata pertaining to each site including; site name, weather conditions, GPS location, and additional notes. For the rest of the day we continued sampling three additional sites, rotating jobs so that every camper had the opportunity to try both the testing and recording portion of the experiment. In the afternoon we returned back to the office to analyze the data. To do this each group was given a sheet that rated each test from poor to excellent. The students had to fill out this sheet at one site. Once each test was binned according to it's quality, we used a basic formula to gauge overall water quality at that site. In general, the groups concluded that most of the sites exhibited surprisingly good water quality. To conclude the day the campers separated into their wiki groups and wrote about their personal experience.
July 3rd – Tuesday
We started the day with a short presentation summarizing the field of ecology, introducing some general ecosystems concepts, and relating some of these principles to the alewife reservation. To reinforce these concepts I had the campers create there very own food web! To do this each camper was giving a sheet with a number of different animals food currently (or historically) on the reservation. Along with the animal's image, each student was given a fact sheet providing information about each animal. The students then arranged the animals by trophic level and linked the animals by their predator-prey interaction. After this activity I took the campers out for a brief morning introduction to the reservation, reviewing some of the concepts discussed earlier out in the field. We then met Amy, our guest entomologist, who spent the rest of the afternoon discussing insects and their importance in our ecosystem.
July 2nd – Monday
Today we met a few of the campers and held an orientation where we introduced the camp. The campers were very attentive and seemed genuinely interested in FAR and some of the curriculum objectives. We also met with senator William Brownsberger, who was very friendly and supportive of the program. In the afternoon we walked to the garden. After lunch in the garden Megan introduced the campers to the different plants and their significance. Then I briefly discussed the local ecosystem as we made our way to Acorn Park for the “pole” game. The game involved separating the campers into three groups. Each group was given a piece of paper and a pole and tasked with the responsibility of hiding the pole and providing directions to their pole for another group to follow. My group hiked over to the north trail and found a small clearing to hide the pole. With the conclusion of the game we proceeded back to the office and held a final orientation, reviewing some of the regular duties some of the campers will be responsible for during camp. Thus concluding the first day of camp!