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Students build fish habitats at Gebhard Woods

MORRIS – Students from South Wilmington Grade School participated in the annual Earth Day in the Parks event series at Gebhard Woods in Morris on Thursday, where they built fish habitats to be placed in the I&M Canal before it is refilled once the aqueduct is fixed.

“It will be easier to place them in the canal while the water is out. The structures they are building will be placed from the collapse to the Waupecan spillway a few miles west,” said Jill Jackson, a natural resource specialist with Illinois Department of Natural Resources who works at Gebhard Woods. “The habitat is for fish and other aquatic life and provides protection against predators.”

More than 750 students visited IDNR state parks in April and May for the eighth Earth Day in the Parks event series, according to a news release. Earth Day in the Parks is an initiative of the IDNR to introduce students to environmental stewardship. They were supposed to be at Gebhard Woods on May 1, but the event was rescheduled due to weather.

School groups were selected by random drawings from an application process held earlier this year.

Stacy Falletti, seventh-grade teacher at South Wilmington Grade School, said she received an email that IDNR was taking applications and was excited to apply.

“I think it’s good for them to get more hands-on experience and hands-on problem-solving,” she said. “They will get to see the results of their work and can return to see how they work.”

The project ties in with science the students have learned in the classroom, such as ecosystems and food chains.

The class split into two groups and went to work to transform three pallets, and some cut plywood into habitats.

Students learned how to form the pallets into a triangle and why they should wear safety glasses, as well as operated a drill to pre-drill screw holes and to insert the screws to hold the structure together.

“It’s fun to drill the screws in to make the fish structures,” 13-year-old Madison Asbridge said. “I was excited when I found out we were coming.”

Summer Fitzgerald, 12, said she was happy to create the structures, so the fish had somewhere to live.

“We need fish. We don’t want them to die,” she said.

The class split into two groups with the girls building separate structures from the boys, and for many, it was their first time using drills.

Falletti said in a small school, there aren’t as many resources available to teach children the skills they learned at the IDNR event.

“Some of these kids wouldn’t have an opportunity like this on their own,” she said.

Thirteen-year-old Gage Swisher had an advantage over the other students, having created pallet structures previously for his uncle’s pond.

“We did it at my uncle’s, so we could know how many fish we had in the pond,” he said. “We’re doing it here for different reasons and so they know where the fish are.”

Johnson said the structures will be used largely by the bass and crappie that are in the waterway, but also insects will find home in the structure.

According to Johnson, it’s just as important for the students to be involved as it is for the fish because they are the future stewards of the land.

“This is more than just a field trip. It’s an investment in a future generation of potential conservationists,” IDNR Director Marc Miller said in the news release. “We hope these students will continue to visit the parks, not only to witness the success of their projects, but perhaps to volunteer and develop a personal connection to a natural place.”

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