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Pandemic rebound: School field trips are back and Corvallis kids are thrilled

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Field trips are the quintessential experience of grade school, but just like other time-honored traditions in the mid-valley — such as Oregon State football games and weddings with a set-in-stone number of attendees — they were put on hold for pandemic concerns.

But no more. After a 1 1/2-year-long pause, the school field trip is back in late 2021.

Fifth-graders at Garfield Elementary were beyond excited recently to bundle up and get back out to the Alsea River to learn about the salmon life cycle.

“I’ve never seen salmon before,” Linnea Mulkey exclaimed. “In the class video they looked small, but they’re actually humongous!”

That’s the point of Salmon Watch, to provide hands on, in-person learning experience that class videos don’t quite cover. At Clemens Park on the Alsea River, students got to conduct research and collect data on salmon biology, macroinvertebrates, water quality and riparian areas.

“I like seeing stuff up real close,” Lia Gomez said. “I like touching stuff and seeing how cold the water is and discovering sea animals. But I’m afraid of sea monsters because we’ve only discovered 5% of the ocean.”

Another student, Vera Brander White, said she liked learning about what the fish can and can’t eat, such as microplastics floating around in the water.

Wednesday’s trip was a bilingual experience — some of the stations were conducted in Spanish and some in English. The cold sunshine sparkled on the water as students searched for live salmon and skipped smooth, shiny rocks across the river.

Salmon Watch field trips began in 1993, and in 2010, the Linn Benton Salmon Watch steering committee began coordinating field trips for students in Linn and Benton Counties. The LBSW steering committee includes partners from Benton Soil and Water Conservation District, Calapooia Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Siuslaw National Forest, South Santiam Watershed Council, and a retired teacher. 

Linn Benton Salmon Watch received a grant from Pacific Power Foundation to help recruit volunteers for the 2021 field trip season. 

Still, the risk of coronavirus infection looms.

In some Linn County classrooms, Salmon Watch actually brought the program to the schools to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Because everyone wore masks, used hand sanitizer between rotations, and only fully vaccinated volunteers were eligible to participate, kids from Benton County schools, such as Garfield Elementary, were able to make the trip out to Clemens Park to witness spawning chinook salmon firsthand.

“When they’re in the classroom, you can tell a kid something until you’re blue in the face, but when the salmon are in front of them, the kids will just be able to watch the salmon putting on a show,” said Kristen Daly, education program manager for Calapooia Watershed Council. “It’s something that the kids find really special. It stays with them.”

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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