More than 50 members of Christopher Lambrecht’s Stream Ecology class have moved on.
No, they’re not graduating. In fact, they’re not even students — they’re rainbow trout.
The trout, which hatched from eggs donated to the classroom by the nonprofit organization Trout Unlimited, were released into the Blue River Friday.
“This is a big day for these guys,” Lambrecht said before the release. “It will be strange not to have the tank in here.”
The stream ecology students have been involved with the trout from the very beginning. The class, which requires an application and teacher permission to join, is popular among high school students. Lambrecht said the class is intended to be “a biology class from a fisherman’s perspective,” with the goal of educating the students on the biology and chemistry behind steam and river ecology, as well as its potential for recreational enjoyment. One of the aspects that make the class popular is its hands-on outdoor components. Students regularly visit the river across the street from the high school, gathering insects to study and taking other data-gathering measurements.
Through a partnership started last year with Trout Unlimited, Lambrecht is able to have that hands-on component in the classroom as well. The trout donated by the organization live in a large tank at the back of the room, right there within arm’s reach of the students, who all have a hand in feeding, cleaning and general care of the fish.
While the first year was mostly a learning experience without any trout released, Lambrecht’s class hit its stride this year.
Before any trout could be released, testing was required to make sure the fish were disease-free. While this process is important, it isn’t exactly free. Trout Unlimited’s Gore Range Anglers chapter (Summit County) and Cutthroat Chapter (Littleton) both donated funds for the fish to be tested. At about $30 per fish, the cost came to just around $1,000.
One of the diseases tested for is called whirling disease. Caused by microscopic parasites, it attacks most salmon, trout and whitefish, remaining in the environment after the infected fish dies.
Fortunately, Summit High’s fish all came back with a clean bill of health, meaning they could release the remaining fish into the wild. The release was the first trout release done by high school students in Colorado into a Class A watershed.
“It is a huge success, because trout are very difficult to keep alive in a tank,” Lambrecht stated in an email. “It allowed students to see something through from beginning to end and to learn something about a complex living thing in a more meaningful way than textbook/lecture setting.”
With the help of 15 students, Lambrecht and representatives of Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the fish were released at the foot of the four mile bridge along the Blue River near the high school.
Lambrecht said his class will certainly be repeating the process next year.
“Our level of success will be used as an example of how successful the program can be in a classroom setting,” Lambrecht said. “It also shows how much support there is in the community for these types of projects. More of these learning opportunities need to made available to students.”
Sharon Lance, of the Trout Unlimited Board of Trustees, said she’s happy to see young students connecting with the environment and learning to understand the importance of its conservation.
“I hope we can foster a conservation ethic through this program,” she said. “They are the next crop of conservationists and if we don’t teach them this, we won’t have anyone to protect Colorado.”