Students of Palmyra Area School District took to the cool spring waters of Memorial Lake on Tuesday to investigate the quality of their local waterways.

As part of their district’s Envirothon club, 19 students from Palmyra Middle and High School convened on the shores of Memorial Lake near Fort Indiantown Gap. Enjoying perfect weather and calm waters, the group studied the health of the environment, including the creatures that live there.

Following the students’ release of brook trout into a nearby creek, the group got a chance to check the chemistry of the surrounding water. After lunch, they spent time canoeing across the lake and back, finding sunbathing turtles and leeches along the way (the leeches were already satiated and therefore harmless). Finally the group traversed the creek, finding small creatures including salamanders, crawfish, and various insect larvae.

Doug Walters (left) and Ryan McGrady (right) go over the day’s events, including canoeing.

The program was put on by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), a nonprofit organization that aims at preserving the Bay’s natural state and the plants and creatures that live within. This also extends to rivers and bodies of water that are part of the Chesapeake watershed, which includes the Susquehanna. The program and others like it is specifically designated SWEEP, standing for Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program.

Ryan McGrady and Doug Walters, who conducted the day’s program, say that getting young people invested in the health of their local water systems is crucial, not only for the Bay and the Susquehanna, but for them as well. “It’s important for these students to recognize that the health of the water environment isn’t just something that affects large bodies like the Chesapeake, but smaller ones in their own hometowns, as well,” says Walters, who’s been with the CBF for seven years.

“Making it relevant to them helps emphasize the influence they can have.”

McGrady discusses the turtle in his hands, including its anatomy and habits.

Gina Mason, the Palmyra District Envirothon Advisor, says that events like this, while not part of the broader Envirothon competition in which schools compete using environmental knowledge, still serve a great purpose in teaching students about ecological issues.

“It’s a chance for them to apply their knowledge out in a real-world environment,” says Mason. McGrady notes that the areas in and around Memorial Lake are doing well. It’s up for the future generations of students like these to keep it that way.

Additional photos from the event are below:

A student finds a crayfish in the silt of a creek that feeds into the lake. Earlier that day, the students released 30 brook trout into the same creek, growing the local population.
Three students prepare to set out on the waters in a CBF canoe.
McGrady steadies a canoe while a student makes his way out.
By disturbing the silt upstream and collecting the debris that flows into the yellow net, students were able to find various macro-invertebrates.
The students pick over their results, looking for macro-invertebrates like mayfly larvae and crawfish. The creatures’ presence indicates a healthy environment.

Josh Groh is a Cornwall native and writer who began reporting for LebTown in 2019. He continued to regularly contribute to LebTown while earning a degree in environmental science at Lebanon Valley College, graduating in 2021. Since then, he has lead conservation crews in Colorado and taken on additional...


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