James Meyers dipped his hand into the water of Elk Creek.
With a roll of his wrist, fly line streamed from the reel in Garrett Winger's hand.
Maggie Delaney made a slit in the soft earth and Alexis Durn knelt to plant a dogwood tree into it.
For them and about 90 other seventh-graders from Penns Valley High School, it was a wet and wild day of outdoor learning at Fox Gap Rod & Gun Club in Centre County, 30 miles east of State College.
The field day was a collaborative effort of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in Pennsylvania, along with federal, state and local agencies and businesses offering financial and technical support. About 30 volunteers, including club members, were there as the day unfolded.
"Our young people today have to take the lead for the future," club owner Chip Brown said, explaining why he opened the club to the students. "What we hope to instill is a little knowledge so they go back to their family and friends and discuss it and show that it doesn't take much to make a major improvement in water quality."
Five stations provided hands-on lessons within walking distance of the three acres of streamside buffer that parallel Elk Creek.
At one position students took samples and learned about watersheds and water chemistry from the Penns Valley Conservation Association.
They found and inspected aquatic bugs and other critters that live in the creek and did some fly-casting with members of the Trout Unlimited Spring Creek Chapter.
At another point along Elk Creek, electro-fishing by Dr. John Niles of Susquehanna University gave students the opportunity to identify trout and other fish.
Among a grove of alders, retired Penn State professor Gary San Julian showed them how upland habitat supports wildlife like the woodcock and his spaniel Hannah showed how a bird-dog works to retrieve.
Back at the creek, CBF staffers Emily Thorpe and Frank Rohrer, along with Adam Smith of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, explained stream and buffer restorations, and demonstrated how to plant trees.
"At our station, students saw how the sloping banks, cobble bottom habitat, riffles and deep pools work hand-in-hand to reduce erosion and runoff, as well as provide the appropriate habitat for trout and other aquatic species," Thorpe said. She is student leadership coordinator for CBF in Pennsylvania.
"Kids from the Trout-in-the-Classroom (TIC) program at Penns Valley High School can come out here and see what happens in the stream and what improvements bring to the stream," Brown added. TIC students raise trout from eggs to fingerlings and release them into local waters.
"Using trout as the canary in the mines concept, if we have good water for trout here in Elk Creek in Centre County, Pennsylvania, eventually when this water gets to the Chesapeake Bay, it will be better water," Brown said. "We are already seeing that work put into these 1,800 feet of Elk Creek is beginning to pay dividends."
"Little things can add up and make a difference," Frank Rohrer added. He is the CBF restoration specialist working with Brown at Fox Gap.
Penns Valley 7th grade Biology teacher Jessica Martin said Fox Gap Rod & Gun Club is the perfect outdoor classroom."Coming out here gives the kids hands-on experience," she said. "They've been able to watch electrofishing, get into the water and collect macro-invertebrates and then be able to assess the stream. They can see the riparian buffer and gauge how the buffer is impacting the water, and rate it whether it's good, fair or poor."
The visit to Fox Gap was the first leg of the Pennsylvania to the Bay experience for Penns Valley students. They will make field trips to the Bay and CBF's Phillip Merrill Environmental Education Center in Annapolis, Md., in May.
"A lot of our students have never been out of the state before," Jessica Martin said. "I hear a lot of them talking about wanting to get into the water. We are going on a boat and dredging the Bay for oysters, using nets in the creek for aquatic species, and then getting into canoes and doing some water testing. I can't wait to see their faces when they find out that it's all going to be in the water."
Financial and instructional support for the student experiences at Fox Gap and the Merrill Center is being provided by the Trout Unlimited Spring Creek Chapter, Pheasants Forever, The Chesapeake Bay Trust, Penns Valley School District, Penns Valley Conservation Association, Chip and Diane Brown, Chesapeake Conservancy and Susquehanna University, Clearwater Conservancy, and The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Local businesses responded to letters written by students by offering financial support.
"The willingness of our partners was impressive," Thorpe added. "Chip Brown brought everyone together and opened up his property."
Brown also shares Fox Gap Rod & Gun Club with wounded warriors for a hunt in the fall of each year and was the first to receive a national volunteer award from the National Wildlife Federation.