Camp Educates Children On Watershed System

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On the beach at Burr Oak Lake, a handful of children splashed around in the water under the watchful eye of camp counselors. A few others built structures in the sand or went canoeing. On the far end of the beach, three girls scooped handfuls of muddy clay and rubbed the mess on their faces, arms and legs. They were camouflaging themselves, they explained.

Camouflaging using natural materials was a skill the children learned just a day earlier during their camp hosted by Sunday Creek Watershed Group. On this day, Friday, the kids capped off their week-long day camp by spending the day at the beach.

The week was packed with hands-on activities involving the natural world. They went creek walking along parts of the 27-mile Sunday Creek and learned about the watershed, a 139-square-mile area that encompasses Athens, Perry and Morgan counties.

“They’re learning why it’s important to keep water clean and how everything on land is connected,” said Michelle Shively, the watershed group’s coordinator. “Everything affects people downstream.”

Using nets, they collected water bugs and other creatures like crayfish. Using meters, they tested the water quality and took measurements. They even cleaned up part of the creek, one of the highlights so far, according to some of the campers. They also learned where the water goes — into the Hocking, down through the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s nice to be able to relate the big picture to something local, something right outside their backyards,” Shively added.

Campers also learned about the watershed’s worst pollutant, acid mine drainage, which is water with high levels of acidity and dissolved metals that come from abandoned underground or surface mines. The higher the levels, the worse environmental impact it creates. It can result in a dead stream, devoid of life, Shively explained.

Over 38 percent of the creek's watershed has been deep mined for coal. Before the Surface Mining and Coal Reclamation Act of 1977, mine owners weren't legally obligated to clean up sites. A seven-mile stretch near Millfield is a perfect example. There’s very little life there because of the mine discharge, which spews out contaminated water at a rate of about 1,000 gallons per minute, Shively said.

The primary focus of the Sunday Creek Watershed Group, founded in 1999 as a program of Rural Action, is to restore the creek to pre-mining conditions.

Camp counselors took the children to a reclamation site in Perry County, where an abandoned mine entry gushes out acidic orange water. The orange coloring comes from the high levels of iron. To neutralize the acid, the watershed group, through a partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, installed a “doser machine,” which adds alkaline material into the stream. The treatment allows the iron to drop out of the water.

“They’re seeing the problem and the solution,” said Joe Brehm, who oversees Rural Action’s environmental education programs. “Often times kids are presented with these huge global problems without being presented with a solution. We’re showing them how humans can have negative or positive impact on the environment.”

For years, the watershed group has offered the popular camp that typically has to turn children away due to the limited slots. This year, 31 campers ages 8-13 enrolled for the program that includes breakfast and lunch — all for $50 per child.

Jade Pettey, 12, who'll be attending Athens Middle School next year, is attending for the second time. Fellow future middle schooler Fiona Schmidt, 11, is back for the fifth time.

Through grants from the Athens Foundation and Epstein Teicher and Philanthropy, the organization was able to subsidize the true cost of the camp per child, which is $280, Brehm said.

With time, Brehm said he hopes to one day offer a camp for younger children and one for teens.