The 25th annual St. Louis River Quest drew a record 1,530 students to the waterfront this year. During each morning and afternoon session, small groups of students participate in a series of unique hands-on learning stations. six aboard the Vista Star and six inside Pioneer Hall at the DECC. They were introduced to topics ranging from pollution prevention, stopping aquatic invaders, piping plover habitat to industrial water reuse, sustainable forestry, waste water treatment, oil spill response, hydroelectric power, commercial shipping and fishy physics.
Emily Wartman, of the Great Lakes Aquarium, manned the fishy physics booth to teach kids the different types of fish that swim in Lake Superior and the St. Louis River and how they move.
"One really easy way to tell the difference between fish is to look at where their eyes are," Wartman said. "If their eyes are on the side, they're prey because they're born to hide. If the eyes are in front, they are predators because they're born to hunt."
Stations on hypothermia, rip currents and wearing lifejackets/boating safety round out each session. Jesse Schomberg of the Minnesota Sea Grant, led a session on rip current safety.
"Most of the deaths from rip currents around the Great Lakes are young people. People under the age of 21. So reaching kids is really important for us," Schomberg said. "We're hoping to help keep kids keep themselves safe, but also to keep others safe. They're down on the beach with other people and we've seen that people who understand rip currents can make a big difference and have actually rescued people who have been caught."
Lincoln Park Middle School sixth-grader Peyton Nelson said he enjoyed the rip current safety session the most.
"I didn't know about them before, but now I understand how to get out of one," Nelson said.
Students carry River Quest passports to document their adventures. Afterward, they are encouraged to submit essays or poems about their experiences for the program's annual writing contest.
St. Louis River Quest is a community-based, volunteer organization founded in 1993 to provide area sixth-grade students with hands-on learning experiences that enhance their awareness and understanding about the St. Louis River ecosystem and the interrelated commercial, industrial and recreational activities in the Duluth-Superior Harbor, part of the Louis River Estuary.
"Visionary leaders launched this program a quarter century ago to help young people become more civically engaged, more environmentally conscious," said Adele Yorde, River Quest board president and public relations director for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, the program's lead sponsor.
From its launch, this outreach education program has continued to grow and evolve. Station sponsors now work directly with educators to align resource materials with Wisconsin and Minnesota science and social studies standards to make the experience an even more effective teaching tool. Over 23,000 students have participated in River Quest since its inception, including this year's participants.