KENAI — About 2,500 rainbow trout were helped into Johnson Lake Tuesday by elementary school students. Some fish were gently guided with small plastic bowls, while other students took a more radical approach — using their bowls to launch the fish into the lake.
“I thought it was kind of funny that 100 kids just throw fish out in the water,” Brandon Rasmussen, a fourth-grader at Tustumena Elementary said. “They must be pretty traumatized fish.”
Learning was all part of the fun Tuesday as Johnson Lake State Recreation Area in Kasilof was turned in to an educational fair for the 13th annual Fish and Game Kenai Peninsula Salmon Celebration.
The celebration was a culmination of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, where Kenai Peninsula Borough School District elementary school students learned about salmon throughout the school year.
The program’s aim is to teach kids how to foster the environment and appreciate salmon, said Jenny Cope, Fish and Game sport fish fisheries biologist.
“Because salmon is such an important resource economically and culturally for many different reasons,” Cope said.
This is the second year Cope has organized the celebration event. She estimated about 800 students helped about 2,500 rainbow trout in to their new home in Johnson Lake on Tuesday.
Even though Tuesday’s big attraction was releasing trout, the classroom program kicked off in October with some classes receiving coho eggs that were incubated and kept as fry, Cope said. Those classes were able to release their fry in Centennial Lake as well during the celebration.
The campground was filled with educational booths to provide hands-on learning through demonstrations and activities. There were booths that displayed animal furs and skulls, hands-on fly fishing and casting and, of course, a station called ‘You don’t know scat’ where students were tasked with matching animals with plastic molds of their scat.
The booths were manned by volunteers from the community as well as Sterling Elementary sixth-graders.
“We get to help the fish swim out and we get to learn more about fish,” Sean McMullen, one of the student helpers said.
However, there was more to the event than releasing fish. The classroom program the students participated in throughout the year taught them about the life cycles of salmon.
“We got to watch a video about sockeye salmon and the video showed the fish and all of what they did in their cycles,” Auree Sorensen, a Soldotna Elementary fourth-grader said.
Connor Koppes, a third grader at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary said learning about the different types of fish was fun. Although, releasing the fish was fun too, he said.
“It was like letting them go like when you catch an adult fish,” he said.
Cope said at the end of the day, the students are leaving the celebration with more knowledge about wildlife, although it may not have felt like it.
“When they walk away, they leave with having learned something,” she said.