Free science day brings awareness to families

North Lake Tahoe Bonanza:  Algae, particulates and copepods… oh my!  The annual Children’s Environmental Science Day is here again. Sponsored by the Lake Tahoe School and the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the free event for children promotes awareness of the unique ecology of the Lake Tahoe basin. Now in its eighth year, the Aug. 6 event features interactive science demonstrations, a boat ride, arts and crafts and a free lunch. Slop on the sunscreen and head for Sand Harbor; this is an event you don’t want to miss.

The Children’s Environmental Science Day began with the collaboration of Beach Boys singer Mike Love and his wife, both active in supporting the Lake Tahoe School, with eminent limnologist Dr. Charles Goldman to create an educational scientific event for the school. For Goldman, an opportunity to educate children on the science of Lake Tahoe was an important step toward protecting the lake’s ecosystem.

"I’ve always known that if you reach up to the parents through their kids, you’ll have more of an impact," said Goldman.

With the involvement of Goldman’s Tahoe Research Group, run through UC Davis, the event quickly expanded to include a number of cooperating organizations and to be open to all local children. This year’s event features activities sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Environmental Coalition, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District, the Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships, the Incline Village General Improvement District, Space Science for Schools, the USGS and others.

Activities for the day range from learning about watersheds and ecology to earth sciences and renewable resources, with an emphasis on the importance of research and individual involvement to conservation efforts. In the past, the boat ride, which features a trip on the Tahoe Princess tour boat to watch UC Davis researchers run basic experiments and collect samples to be studied by the children back on shore, has been a particular favorite.

Also popular have been interactive demonstrations of how pollutants travel through watersheds, where children pour chocolate syrup into a model of a watershed to see how it spreads, and of how particulates affect clarity, which involves a lot of playing with mud and sand.

"They loved it because they got to shake the sieve and, once it got down to the finer particles, it was really soft and fun," said TERC staff member and demonstrator Collin Strasenburgh. "You could tell the ones who had been to my station because they were covered in mud."

Even with the fun of mud and chocolate syrup, children come away with a real understanding of the way the Tahoe Basin works.

"We would talk about where a lot of the particles come from," said Strasenburgh. "I think the kids got a pretty good understanding of how particle size affects clarity."

As always, the day ends with a short talk by Goldman on important systems in the lake and what children can do to protect the lake.

"I give them a sort of ‘1A’ course in limnology," said Goldman.

This Children’s Environmental Science Day is particularly special as the last time the event will take place at Sand Harbor before it moves to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center’s new facility on the campus of Sierra Nevada College. The move will allow participants to take better advantage of the center’s educational resources, but may jeopardize the future of the boat ride due to scheduling conflicts with the Hyatt Regency boat docks, according to TERC Education and Outreach Coordinator Heather Segale.

While those involved in the event see the move as largely positive, there has been some concern.

"I would hope the boat trip would still come off," said Dr. Goldman. "Getting the kids out on the lake is important."

" You can’t see the lake (from the center). That’s kind of significant, if you ask me," joked Strasenburgh. "Still, it allows the kids to take a tour of a first-rate facility."

Come out and enjoy the Children’s Environmental Science Day, boat ride and all, this Monday.

The Children’s Environmental Science Day will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, at Sand Harbor State Park. Children ages 8 and up are welcome. Registration is free, but space is limited to the first 100 children to register. Pizza, soda and snacks are provided. Call (775) 831-5828 to register.

Evan Schladow
Bonanza Intern