In March’s blog, I talked about Blue Thumb Trainings, an invaluable and essential tool in the Blue Thumb water quality monitoring and education program. Our trainings allow us to give new volunteers the skills and knowledge to begin monitoring a creek and educating their communities about water quality, watersheds, nonpoint source pollution and other water-related topics. Through the trainings, we get to know our new volunteers and hope to inspire and motivate them to become as involved as possible in our mission of stream protection through education.
This year has been an especially exciting one for Blue Thumb trainings. This is partly due to the number of trainings that we have held. For comparison, let’s look at the past few years. In 2013, we had 5 trainings (Tulsa, Tahlequah, Hinton, Spiro and at UCO in Edmond). 2014 also saw 5 trainings (Tulsa, Hugo, Norman, Stillwater and UCO). Another 5 were held in 2015 (Medicine Park, Tahlequah, Tishomingo, Tulsa and UCO). Finally, last year included 4 trainings (Norman, Owasso, Stillwater and Sulphur).
We are already at 8 trainings in 2017 and we’re not even finished yet. So far, we’ve held two trainings in Ada and one training each in Beaver County, Idabel, Oklahoma City, Pawhuska, Stillwater and Tahlequah. There will be one last training for the year in Broken Arrow during the first weekend of November (contact Candice Miller at email@example.com for information or to register). This amount of trainings is unprecedented, as the previous high total for a year was 6.
Something else has made this year’s trainings unique and exciting. In the past, trainings were often organized by the Blue Thumb staff according to population centers or areas of interest. There has always been an annual training in Tulsa, an area where we have a lot of interest and volunteers, and where Blue Thumb got its start. There’s also an annual training in the Oklahoma City metro area, often at one of the local universities, University of Central Oklahoma or Oklahoma City University. We’ve also had a number of trainings in Norman and Stillwater, where the university students often have interest in getting involved.
These past trainings were scheduled by Blue Thumb staff who then promoted and marketed the events in and around the area communities. A wide variety of promotion and outreach tactics were used to spread the word about the training and attract interested community members, students, etc. This year, though, the script has been flipped, with a number of people coming to us first and asking for a training, then doing much of the promotion for the training on their own within their organization or community.
When we had our training in Pawhuska, Blue Thumb staff worked with Electa Redcorn, a representative of the Osage Nation, to set up the training. Electa and Jeri worked out all of the details for the training and Electa had a large number of people, including many from their youth council, already signed up to attend. Similarly, when we had a training in Beaver County, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Commissioner Karl Jett asked us to hold a training in that region, specifically so that his youth board could begin monitoring a creek. Karl worked with Jeri to plan and organize that training, which also included a few community members from the surrounding area.
These kinds of requests for training continued throughout the year. Oklahoma City’s chapter of the Sierra Club has contacted us requesting a training for their group and they plan to attend one in the near future. This summer, we received requests for a second Ada training from two different people, Sunhawk Hill from the Chickasaw Nation and Teresia Harrison from the Institute for Math and Science Education at East Central University. Along with Blue Thumb staff members, they came together to plan, organize and promote that training (the first training to occur mid-week, on a Monday and Tuesday). Blue Thumb volunteer Jahna Hill, who is also the Tahlequah Stormwater Manager and head of the Friends of Town Branch Creek, asked us to have a training in Tahlequah. She requested the training to help Friends of Town Branch start monitoring and hopefully get the community involved. Those two trainings, Ada and Tahlequah, along with a training in Stillwater, made for three successful trainings in one month!
With so many trainings, you may wonder what happens next. An important part of the Blue Thumb program is fostering and maintaining relationships with our amazing volunteers who do so much for us. We take pride in the strength of those relationships and the work that we put into supporting, encouraging and empowering our volunteers. That effort begins at the trainings and continues long after the training ends. Lines of communication with volunteers are kept open and we reach out soon after a training to follow up with them.
Often, that follow up includes visiting a creek site with them to check out a potential monitoring spot. This has happened recently when I visited a potential site in Tahlequah, where two groups of volunteers have expressed interest monitoring a site and are excited to get started. I’ll be traveling back to Tahlequah again in the near future, to visit with those two groups and discuss possibilities. I’ll also be in Ada next week, visiting a possible site with another new volunteer, and a second group of volunteers from the last Ada training will be visiting possible sites in Sulphur with us in the coming weeks.
These visits allow Blue Thumb staff and volunteers alike to check out the site and see if it’s viable. Does it have enough flowing water, is the flow consistent and likely to be year-round, is there a riffle for bug collections, is there easy access to the creek, is there a place to park, and other questions are taken into consideration. Once we decide a site is going to move forward, Blue Thumb staff start the process of gathering the site’s information, such as latitude/longitude, surrounding landowners, water body ID number, etc. Meanwhile, we work with the volunteers to set up a time to meet again at the site and go through their first monitoring session with them, taking them through the entire stream-side process. It’s always a fun and exciting moment when a new volunteer begins the journey of discovery at a new creek site.