In my last post, I mentioned that my job started right in the middle of winter bug collections, providing a fantastic opportunity to crisscross the state, visiting streams and meeting volunteers. The beginning of my time here also gave me the chance to attend three different Blue Thumb volunteer trainings, another integral part of what we accomplish across the state through the work of our dedicated and inspiring volunteers.
Late January saw the Blue Thumb staff assembled in a classroom at Oklahoma City University. A large group of potential new volunteer monitors arrived for the training, quite a few of them already working in an environmental or educational profession. During that training, I had the chance to experience it as a volunteer, going through the process in the same way the volunteers do (and will soon begin monitoring the creek that we visited during the training!). A second training happened in February in Pawhuska and was attended by members of the Osage Nation, as well as members of other tribes and the local community. It was especially exciting to see the number of young people who attended the training who were interested in getting involved in protecting the environment. Quite a few young people also attended the third training, in Beaver in early March, which gave me a chance to visit the panhandle for the first time.
Two-day training sessions like these are an outstanding way for local citizens to become involved in their community by working alongside Blue Thumb to monitor and educate about a local stream. The volunteers are our eyes and ears on a stream and also the way we spread our message of stream protection through education across the state. One of the goals of the training is to empower people to protect their stream by educating about it in their town or region; whether in schools, local community events such as Earth Day or Natural Resource Days, presentations to local service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis, exhibits at the local public library, tables in front of Walmart, or just about anything else they can come up with. We couldn’t do it without them.
An informal icebreaker gets things started on day one of training and gives everyone the chance to meet and get to know each other a bit. After that, we provide the volunteers with a presentation that introduces them to Blue Thumb and what we do. It also gives them an idea of some key concepts that they’ll be thinking about in relation to their stream and fills them in on how, exactly, their work could directly impact the health of the creek they monitor. Presentations led by Blue Thumb staff cover safety concerns related to creek monitoring and the data sheet that volunteers fill out when they visit their creek. During most of the first day, attendees are introduced to some of the educational tools and activities that they can utilize to teach others about water quality, pollution, runoff and other issues. Usually included are a demonstration of an Enviroscape model, a rainfall simulator and a fun and educational Project WET activity.
The first half of day two may arguably be the most fun part of the training, as we take the entire group of volunteers out to a local creek to demonstrate the kind of work they will be doing. Depending on how many staff members are present, how many volunteers there are, and what the creek is like, we may split into smaller groups. Each group gets to participate in a macroinvertebrate collection (bug kicking) and using a seine to look for fish, just like at our summer fish collections. Groups are then instructed on how to do the only part of the chemical tests that must be done creek-side, preparing a sample of water to be tested later for dissolved oxygen. We also cover the monitoring data sheet and the procedure for testing the water’s clarity.
Others would argue that it’s actually the second part of the day that’s the most fun, when volunteers get to conduct the other chemical tests. These tests for dissolved oxygen, nitrate/nitrite, orthophosphate, chloride, pH, and ammonia are conducted every month by volunteers. During the training, they get to go through and complete each test, with the help of Blue Thumb staff members. It’s a lot of fun and a great introduction to the kind of easy and exciting chemistry that volunteers can do at home with their creek water. The results are immediate and sometimes surprising, giving everyone a chance to see firsthand and discuss the quality of the creek we all just visited.
Blue Thumb trainings are completely free of charge, open to all, and are great for teachers, middle and high school students, landowners, retirees, professionals, 4-H leaders and members, or anyone with an interest in clean water! Check our website and Facebook page for future training dates. We hope to see you at one soon!