Hello! My name is Heidi. I am a part-time Environmental Educator at the Coastal Watershed Council. I started at the beginning of March this year and it has been an awesome adventure getting to know the people and programs of CWC. I have worked as a Program Director and Field Instructor/Naturalist for several different Outdoor Schools in the area since 2005 and I am happy to be involved in such an impactful Environmental Education program that teaches science and conservation to our local youth. I have had a great experience teaching Watershed Rangers programs with CWC. Through their Watershed Rangers lessons, students learn their place in the San Lorenzo Valley Watershed and how their actions impact the health of the San Lorenzo River.

I have led 4-week Watershed Ranger series’ with 9 second and third grade classes at 3 different schools. During this time, I reached almost 225 students. Since March, these 225 students have gotten about 40 hours of classroom and field trip instruction from CWC, not including all of the additional Watershed Rangers teacher-led content that goes along with the 4-week Watershed Ranger lesson series. Some of these students had the Watershed Rangers program led in their classroom in years prior and many will in years to come. It makes me happy that the impact of the Watershed Rangers on students is cumulative over the weeks and often over the years. 

Heidi and students discuss steelhead trout habitat at Junction Park

Most of my time with the Watershed Rangers Program has been with students from San Lorenzo Valley Elementary and Boulder Creek Elementary. Both schools are very close to the San Lorenzo River and its tributaries. San Lorenzo Valley Elementary students walked from their campus to Fall Creek State Park for their field trip, and the Boulder Creek Elementary students walked from their campus to Junction Park on the San Lorenzo River. Students from both schools were very excited for their field trip. This field trip was a milestone for many because it was the first field trip ever! For others, it was their first field trip in quite a long time.

Junction Park in Boulder Creek, CA is just downstream from the junction of Bear Creek, Boulder Creek and the San Lorenzo River.

On their field trip, the third grade students gathered data to decide if it is a good habitat for steelhead trout. Students used transparency tubes to determine the clarity of the water, important to trout so they can find food, and investigated the presence of plants growing along the river bank, which helps prevent erosion. They also assessed the number of downed trees and logs along the river bank, which is important to providing places for young trout to hide.

Steelhead trout lay their eggs in gravel, as shown in this April 2022 photo from Branciforte Creek. Photo credit: ST

Students also looked at the material at the bottom of the river to see if it was good for trout to lay eggs in nests called redds. All of these factors determine if it is a good habitat for steelhead trout. Students celebrated their findings at the end of their field trip and determined that the river was overall a healthy habitat for steelhead trout migration! 

Field trips and classroom visits like these could not be possible without generous funding from the City of Santa Cruz and County of Santa Cruz. Thank you for supporting a strong connection between local youth and the San Lorenzo River. 

Written by Heidi Plowe

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