Nearly 1,000 elementary students from around the Kenai Peninsula gathered at Johnson Lake in Kasilof last week for the 22nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Salmon Celebration, where they stocked rainbow trout and visited dozens of booths to learn about fish, wildlife, habitat and regulations.
Jenny Gates, assistant area management biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, said during the event that children had traveled from as far away as Homer and Moose Pass.
“Every elementary school in the Kenai Peninsula Borough from the head of Kachemak Bay to Seward to North Kenai and every place in between gets an invite to attend,” she said. “This is a great field trip — wrapping up the school year and learning all things salmon and environmental concepts and stewarding our natural resources.”
Salmon Celebration comes as something of a finale to the department’s yearlong Salmon in the Classroom program — but even schools that don’t participate in that attend the event at Johnson Lake.
The first stop for many students was stocking a rainbow trout into Johnson Lake, one of Fish and Game’s permitted stocking lakes. Gates said that in previous years the department would stock its “full complement” of trout during Salmon Celebration.
This year, with ice still covering much of the lake, many fish will be waiting until later, but enough fish were brought for every student to take one to the water’s edge and watch it swim away.
A press release from the department said that there were 31 booths set up. Gates said that beyond Fish and Game, several other agencies participated , including the Division Forestry & Fire Protection, Central Emergency Services, State Parks, the Office of Boating Safety, Central Peninsula Hospital’s Safe Kids, the Kenai Watershed Forum, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kenai River Professional Guide Association, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Lots of planning, lots of coordinating and the department is super happy that we’re able to offer this opportunity to students,” Gates said.
Topics at the booths covered a wide range, from fish anatomy to recognizing different forms of animal scat. Many related to fish habitat and life cycles, as well as outdoor safety and fishing technique. Some booths were designed to discuss fishing and hunting regulation — recognizing which animals are legal for harvest and what documentation is necessary.
Gates said it’s important, especially locally when so many are near the Kenai River, to start conversations about regulations and ethical harvest early.
In addition to all of the organizations and entities, Gates said 14 of the booths were run by elementary students from Sterling Elementary.
Sarah Knobloch, a sixth grade teacher at Sterling Elementary, said that for her students, helping out with Salmon Celebration is an opportunity to be in charge, to be helpful, and to get hands-on.
“This is a time to represent Sterling, to be a student leader, hopefully give them some confidence,” she said.
The students from Sterling participated in the other elements of Salmon in the Classroom, then last week spent two hours “training” to run their stations at the Celebration.
“They get here, they’re prepared to teach,” Knobloch said. “Answer the questions that some of the kiddos might have.”
Salmon, Knobloch said, are “integral to everything” on the Kenai Peninsula, and she said she’s excited to see both her students getting so involved and the larger community showing up to learn.
“Salmon is huge in the culture of Alaska, especially in our area — known for fishing. It’s a natural resource in our area and I hope they remember the importance of it.”
Gates had a similar sentiment.
“I love watching kids walk away with something that they’ve learned,” Gates said. “Get them started at a younger age appreciating our natural resources and looking at them in a different light.”
For more information about the Department of Fish and Game, including education and outreach efforts like Salmon Celebration, visit adfg.alaska.gov.