by: Angela Danovi
Beaver LakeSmart Project Coordinator
If you happened to be at Horsebarn Trail Park in Rogers last Saturday afternoon, you probably saw a bunch of adults seemingly stomping around in the water looking for bugs or small groups standing beside the creek having a serious discussion about trees in the riparian zone or the rocks alongside the streambank. This was the 2017 Benton County Master Naturalists in Training completing the field training portion of their class on streams and water of the Ozarks.
The Northwest Arkansas Master Naturalists have become great partners with the water quality and environmental service community. Their volunteers support stream cleanups, provide environmental education at public events, maintain trails, remove invasive species from state parks and public lands, and provide more than half of the volunteer support for the StreamSmart and Beaver LakeSmart volunteer water quality monitoring programs. But, before you see the master naturalists out volunteering in the field or leading an environmental education program, they spend several Saturdays in the spring learning about all aspects of the environment in the Ozarks.
The day began early Saturday morning at 8am when the coffee crew arrived to the Center for Nonprofits to set up 3 pots coffees and prepare for a day of training. Around 8:45 the NITs or “naturalists in training” trickled in with their notebooks and field guides in hand, ready for another Saturday of learning and engaging in hands-on training. Local experts lead training each week on specific topics. Nicole Hardiman and Stephanie Burchfield of the Illinois River Watershed Partnership led classroom sessions on water science, watersheds, and streams. I finished the morning talking about the Beaver Lake Watershed and water science concepts connected with Beaver Lake. This helped to provide some foundational knowledge to the “NITs” for an afternoon in the studying a nearby stream.
The afternoon stream training session is always one of the most well reviewed portions of the master naturalists training class. It is also a unique chance for master naturalists to learn about and complete a stream monitoring training similar to Stream Smart. During the stream training, the NITs broke into groups with a leader to complete a habitat assessment, learning about how stream conditions such as substrate of stream beds, sedimentation, and bank conditions can affect aquatic life. The stream at horsebarn trail provided NITs a chance to look at 4 different conditions of stream habitat. So, each group had different scores on their assessment as the stream, bank, and riparian zone conditions changed from upstream of the park, through the park, and just downstream of the park. Afterwards, Nicole Hardiman led several groups in testing dissolved oxygen, pH, and stream temperature, reinforcing how stream conditions can affect physical and chemical conditions of the stream.
The afternoon finished with a favorite activity, a macroinvertebrate survey. NITs broke into teams hauling kick nets and trays out into the stream as they did the stream bug shuffle to capture the macroinvertebrates living at the bottom of the stream. For many master naturalists, this was their first time they ever saw or considered there were smaller aquatic bugs that lived in streams. There were many surprised NITs who found mayflies, huge crayfish, and caddisflies living in the substrate of the Horsebarn trail creek. Seeing the live critters wriggling about while identifying them as pollution sensitive, somewhat sensitive, or pollution tolerant, connected together the complete assessment of high quality stream chemistry conditions combined with a healthy habitat supporting the aquatic wildlife and ecosystem that two hours earlier they had not realized existed.
The day ended with the NITs excited about streams and wanting to volunteer and learn more! I am looking forward to working with this group of eager learners in StreamSmart. They will bring their knowledge, experience, and skills to helping us monitor our streams and protect our water quality in the Beaver Lake Watershed and the Ozarks.
To learn more about the Northwest Arkansas master naturalists please contact Anney Davis at [email protected]. To learn more about joining a stream or lake monitoring team please contact Angela Danovi at [email protected] or call 479-295-7717.