Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2011-12-07 "4-year-old watershed study program expands to include students from Vallejo" by Lanz Christian Bañes from "Vallejo Times Herald"
SUISUN CITY -- There are many lessons young Vallejo scientists could learn at Rush Ranch, but one is sure to be firmly lodged in their minds.
Pickleweed, the succulent yet scraggly marsh plant, definitely lives up to its name.
"It tastes like a pickle," said Faith Hazzard, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from Solano Middle School.
Faith was among about 60 or so Solano Middle School sixth-graders who hiked their way through Rush Ranch Open Space on Tuesday as part of the Suisun Marsh Watershed Program.
This is the first time Vallejo students were included in the 4-year-old program developed by the Solano and Suisun Resource Conservation Districts, said Marianne Butler, spokeswoman for the Solano Resource Conservation District.
The program is funded primarily by the Solano County Water agency, though this year, the conservation districts were able to secure a $25,000 grant from the Solano Community College, Butler said. More than 1,100 students are expected to go through the program this year.
That college grant was able to pay for 12 more classes to go this year -- including four from Solano Middle School. Usually, classes are picked from Fairfield and Suisun schools because it is those cities' watershed that will be examined at Rush Ranch, Butler said.
The program includes five in-class lessons and culminates with a five-hour field trip to Rush Ranch, more than 2,000 acres of open grasslands and tidal marshlands owned and operated by the Solano Land Trust.
"It was really awesome," said Jonathan Aquino, 11, who enjoyed hiking through the rolling hills and occasionally muddy trails.
Students jotted down their observations of red-tailed hawks, sparrows, wrens and a sleeping barn owl, and searched for the elusive and endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.
For a day, they became soil scientists, hydrologists and botanists, conducting a variety of tests to check for water clarity, soil density and the overall health of the varied flora of Rush Ranch.
This included getting a taste of the ranch's pickleweed -- and a lesson on the safest times to pick plants for consumption to avoid eating pesticides.
"It was fun and creative," said Kyra Rhone, 11, whose favorite experiment was checking the phosphate levels in the marsh (it's 2 parts per million, if you were wondering).
Students also were expected to write poetry on the fly after climbing Overlook Hill, with its sweeping views of marshes, mountains and sky.
"The sound of birds / and the rustle of leaves / all help you come to believe /what this unique world can achieve," wrote one student.
Many of the Solano Middle School students who attended said they want to come out to Rush Ranch every year.
However, the college grant that funds the Vallejo students is only for this year, Butler said. It cost about $2,000 per class, including the in-class visits and the field trip, she said. Altogether, 33 classes are included in this year's program.
Regardless, Tuesday's field trip proved to be more than a simple science lesson for the Solano Middle School students.
"It was very educational -- and entertaining," Faith said.

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