By Rod Myers, Naturalist
In the old days, the Burpee Carriage House on the banks of the Rock River was home to the family automobile, and a good thing about it was that the floor mechanically turned 180 degrees, thus eliminating backing out. Currently the refurbished carriage house, or boathouse as some people call it, is becoming an integral part of Burpee Museum of Natural Historys education curriculum and turning young minds on to river water quality.
Thanks mostly to grants from the EPA and the Aqua-Aerobics System, the carriage house has become a testing lab for Rock River water quality. The two large gifts plus the generosity of other donors covered the costs for the lab, complete with plumbing and an 8-foot wide switch backside walk, making the labs lower level accessible to people in wheelchairs or with other mobility problems. Also built was a metal deck from which water samples of the river are taken. This education effort is a joint project of the Burpee Museum and Rockford School District 205, though its not limited to teaching Rockford public school students.
Home-schooled students, Scout groups, and others are invited. Grant money left after construction covers District 205 student and chaperon admissions plus transportation. The seventh grade level was chosen to benefit from Burpees lab; as of this date, 2,100 students are signed up for spring and fall. Officially, this worthwhile effort is called Project Clear.
According to Melissa Schrock, Project Clears co-coordinator, Students in the seventh grade are already taught the water cycle, but this project offers a hands-on experience. The 2-1/2-hour program is designed for up to 75 students or three classes at one time. Two of the main goals of the class are to make kids more aware of pollution and to show them what actually lives in the water. There are three classes of organisms living in river water, classes A, B and C. Class A organisms live in the cleanest water, Class B in semi-clean water, and Class C in the more polluted waters. Believe it or not, Burpee has found some Class A organisms living in the Rock River. Knowing what lives in the water helps define the overall health of the river.
To help you see the small life collected, a camscope camera attached to a microscope projects images of macro invertebrates onto a television screen. The camscope camera and microscope are down in the lower level lab, while the TV screen is on the upper level. Macro invertebrates are critters without backbones that are very small, yet big enough to see with the naked eye. The TV screen makes them much, much bigger, bringing in a new field of awe and detail.
Other duties of students include testing on-site samples for Ph., dissolved oxygen, nitrates and phosphates, and determining water turbidity or, as some call it, murkiness. And let me make this perfectly clearsome pretty good discussions occur during and after lab results are determined. That same curious spirit is taken to the upper level of the carriage house when the students identify the macro invertebrates in carriage house TV land. All sample test results will be collected by the students and compared to results from water samples from other locations. Later, the students will participate in other hands-on activities that deal with water quality issues including good water stewardship.
For more information about Project Clear, call the Burpee Museum at 965-3433 and ask for the education department or log on to www.burpee.org.
Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associates degree in science and a bachelors in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.