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Quaker Valley students get down and dirty at annual Meadville camp

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Izzy Malcolm of Edgeworth poses with a snake at Creek Connections' Creek Camp at Allegheny College in June.
Laura Mangan of Sewickley tests the water of mine drainage at Creek Connections' Creek Camp at Allegheny College in June.

Laura Mangan said she had a good excuse to get dirty for a week this summer.

She and Izzy Malcolm, both Quaker Valley High School students, attended the eighth annual Creek Connections' Creek Camp at Allegheny College in Meadville in June. The students said they enjoyed wading around in the creeks that are part of the French Creek Watershed, but they also learned a lot about testing for water quality and about the creatures who live in and around the creeks that depend on clean water.

Both are environmental interns with QV Creekers — a group of 10 to 15 Quaker Valley students who monitor and perform water testing in the Little Sewickley Creek Watershed throughout the year for school credit.

Mangan, 16, and Malcolm, 15, attended through a scholarship they received from Little Sewickley Creek Watershed Association and Fern Hollow Nature Center.

Malcolm, daughter of Dana and Brendan Malcolm, of Edgeworth, said she liked the camp and QV Creekers because she experienced things she never would have in a classroom.

“It was more hands-on,” she said. “We got to test the water ourselves instead of just reading about it.”

Partly sponsored by Creek Connections — which does similar work with schools throughout the state and in New York and Michigan — the internship is led by April Claus, Fern Hollow Nature Center director of environmental education.

Since 2009, when the program began, the after-school group has sent nine interns to camp on scholarships, she said.

Claus, who brought snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders and other creatures to the camp one day for students to study, said she is thankful to the watershed association and nature center for providing funds so that students can “experience Pennsylvania's freshwater ecosystems firsthand.”

Campers participated in fish shocking, using a device put into the water to temporarily stun the fish so campers could put them into buckets to figure out the types and numbers of fish in the watershed, Mangan said.

They also looked for macroinvertebrate to help determine water quality.

The students visited a fish hatchery, the Pymatuning spillway to see large carp and the state Game Commission's Pymatuning Wildlife Learning Center.

They also learned about and participated in activities focusing on bats, owls, bugs, freshwater mussels, abandoned mines during a trip to the Jennings Environmental Education Center in Butler County, a dam at Woodcock Creek in Crawford County and the night sky using a telescope at Allegheny College's Newton Observatory.

At the end of camp, students worked together to present the results of their creek research.

Mangan, daughter of Mike and Gail Mangan, of Sewickley, said she liked staying in a dorm with college students who helped with the camp.

“We learned a lot from them about environmental science and the college experience. It was a lot of fun,” she said.

Creek Camp coordinator Laura Branby said local environmental specialists who also help with the camp give students an idea about the many varieties of environmental jobs available.

Although she said it's wonderful if the camp sparks an interest in a possible environmental career, as Mangan and Malcolm said it did for them, the main purpose is to instill a lifelong interest in the environment and in keeping waterways clean.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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