Celebrating 30 years of Conservation Days in Otter Tail County

Every spring, fifth graders from across Otter Tail County converge on the Walker Lake Fish Hatchery.

Soils jeopardy with the NRCS staff gets fun and competitive. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Soils jeopardy with the NRCS staff gets fun and competitive. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Students examine walleye eggs collected at the Walker Lake Fish Hatchery. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Students examine walleye eggs collected at the Walker Lake Fish Hatchery. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Students taste-test drinking water at the Water Quality Station with the U of M Extension. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Students taste-test drinking water at the Water Quality Station with the U of M Extension. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Left to right: Donna Geiser (Extension), Arnie Rethemeier (SWCD), Steve Handegaard (DNR), and Mike Nelson (DNR, helped start the tradition of Conservation Days in 1989 and were honored at this year’s 30th Anniversary. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

Left to right: Donna Geiser (Extension), Arnie Rethemeier (SWCD), Steve Handegaard (DNR), and Mike Nelson (DNR, helped start the tradition of Conservation Days in 1989 and were honored at this year’s 30th Anniversary. Photo courtesy of East Otter Tail Soil and Water

They quickly settle into groups to learn about the natural resources that surround them in their communities, from the fish in the lakes and streams to the trees in the woods, the water they drink, the soils that grow abundant crops, and the importance of recycling. Conservation Days, is put on jointly by the East and West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation Districts, along with help from the East and West Otter Tail University of Minnesota Extension offices. Together with the Department of Natural Resources, Otter Tail County Recycling, the Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force, and East and West Otter Tail NRCS staff, put together a variety of stations to introduce students to the importance of natural communities.

Thirty years ago, the original Conservation Days founders got presenters together and convinced schools across the county to attend, starting the tradition. Little has changed in the format and goals of the program in the past 30 years and stands as a testament to its worth in our community.

At the soils station, kids get competitive in a game a jeopardy, answering questions about our soils, crops, and what farmers are doing to conserve soil. The NRCS staff has fun tripping up the kids, especially when they hold out a small handful of dirt and ask "How many organisms are in this much soil?" The answers range from two to two million, but rarely do they get the correct answer of one billion bacteria and other miniscule creatures. 

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