The Making of a Healthy Watershed


Standing in a booth at the back of a circus-sized tent with the smell of fried dough and the sounds of bleating farm animals in the air, we were tasked with drawing in and keeping the attention of wiggling children at the Greene County Youth Fair. While we usually work at the computer, creating maps and writing proposals or we are out in the field, digging in the dirt or planting trees; last week we had a great time hanging out at the fair speaking with the public about what makes a healthy watershed. We were using an Emriver table to demonstrate stream processes and talk with the next generation about how streams change overtime, why streams need their floodplains, and why it is important to stabilize stream banks by planting trees.

SCA intern Emily Ramlow speaks with a group of boys about building durable culverts

Even though the attractions at the Greene County Youth Fair included animals (cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and rabbits), amusement park rides, fair games and pig races, our Emriver stream table demonstration was constantly crowded with children and curious adults.

SCA intern Lilly Stewart is surrounded by enthused children experimenting with the stream table. Many of the children returned to the stream table throughout the day to try new designs.

The Emriver stream table is ultimately a big box filled with a kind of sand-like plastic medium along with a stream of water that flows downward which, fairly realistically, demonstrates how a stream will behave and change over time. The kids loved it! At a three day fair, we were not expecting to see the same kids continue to come back to our table day after day and stay for 30-45 minutes at a time but I guess that is the consequence of having an education tool that is hands on and looks like a big sand box with water. While some kids just wanted to build a sandcastle, the best part of the fair was seeing the kids create what they saw as a perfect stream system complete with bridges and culverts. We challenged the kids to build structures that would hold up over time and then test their designs our by turning on the water. When the structures were affected by a ‘flood’ (the best part for most kids) or a natural stream process, it was a thrill to see their excitement and desire to try to make a better stream system that was healthy and would stay where they wanted.

The children and adults taught us as well with their stories of first hand stream experiences. SCA intern Emily Ramlow looks on as intern Lilly Stewart discusses why a road in the middle of the stream was washed out.

Most of the families who stopped by our table knew only too well how powerful a stream can be because they had very recently experienced the devastating flooding that occurred in the Catskills of New York following tropical storm Irene. Day one of the fair was full of nerves as we tried to find a way to balance education and awareness without bringing up the negative emotions surrounding the Irene aftermath. There was no need to fear as the people we spoke with showed a respect for the steams and a need to know how and why the stream behaved the way it did during the storm.

Since the fair, we have been able to demonstrate the stream table at a small camp in a nearby town. Their excitement and creativity makes us very hopeful for future generations who will appreciate and better understand how our land use and stream health are all connected.

A group of boys learn it is hard to straighten a stream that wants to follow a winding path at the Maplecrest Camp

SCA intern Emily Ramlow helps a group of girls construct a bridge at the Maplecrest Camp

SCA intern Lilly Stewart works with a group of girls to make a culvert at the Maplecrest Camp