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A Fish Tale: Students Set Chinook Salmon Free into Local Creek

Fish Release One of Many Lessons At ‘Happy Hollow’

Lee Middle School teacher Vlad Borza stretched his arms wide to show Godfrey Elementary School students how large salmon released into Wyoming’s Plaster Creek will someday grow.

“As big as a shark!” shouted one boy.

“Well, not quite as big as a shark, but as big as you,” said Borza.

Facts about Chinook Salmon

  • Sometimes called king salmon
  • Native to the Pacific Ocean; stocked in the Great Lakes in 1960s to control the alewife population
  • Remain in the Great Lakes for 1-4 years before returning to rivers
  • Grow to 30-40 pounds and an average of 38 inches in length

Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

As a crowd of elementary- and middle-school students watched, eighth-graders led by Borza released 128 Chinook salmon into the creek, atributary to the Grand River, which runs alongside the district’s Early Childhood Center at 961 Joosten Ave. SW.

Recent cleanup and restoration efforts of the long-polluted creek have made the waterway ready to sustain fish, Borza said.

Salmon already populate the waters though they aren’t documented by the state, he said.

“There’s good hope this will be a viable stream,” Borza said.

Raising Salmon

The project to raise salmon from eggs to small fish has spanned much of the school year. Eighth-graders first received eggs from the Platte River State Fish Hatchery, in Beulah, in November. Students have learned about water temperature, food and other factors that impact fish while cultivating their growth.

Eighth-grader Enrique Martinez climbed down a bank to the edge of the creek, letting the salmon go into the chilly water.

“Raising animals is pretty cool,” Enrique said. “I thought salmon were like every other fish, but I learned differently.”

Borza explained what will happen next.

“The fish need the help of the river to take them out,” Borza said. “Hopefully they will live in Lake Michigan.

“There goes the first one!” he exclaimed, as the tiny fish began to dart out of the bucket. “This is their first time in a real river.”

Lee Middle School students release the fish, setting them on a journey to Lake Michigan
Lee Middle School students release the fish, setting them on a journey to Lake Michigan

Students will observe the creek for salmon in years to come. The fish “imprint” themselves into the location where they are released, and are likely to return during migration. Chinook salmon are the largest species of Pacific salmon, but Great Lakes salmon spend their entire lifecycle in fresh water. In the big lake, the fish will grow for about three years before returning to the river.

If they follow the route, as Borza hopes, they will return to Plaster Creek in about three years.

Eighth-grader Crystal Gonzalez said she learned different factors that go into raising fish, feeding and water temperature.

“I hope they come back and lay their eggs here and start over again,” she said. “It’s like a new beginning.”

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools is developing the half-mile-long stretch along Plaster Creek into the Happy Hollow Living Learning Lab, where outdoor activities will span all subjects and expose students to biodiversity and the need for preservation.

Planning partners include West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Blandford Nature Center, Calvin College, General Motors, the City of Wyoming and Consumers Energy.

Workshops could focus on bird and wildlife identification, invasive species identification and removal and mapping and exploring the space. Future plans include adding interpretive signs and a learning area with tree-stump seating. The long-term plan is to create a barrier-free path to connect with the bike trails located north and south of the land.

On the sunny day in May, students wished the salmon safe travels.

“Good luck! See you in three years!” they shouted.

CONNECT

Chinook salmon info

Great Lakes migrants: More than just salmon

SNN Article on Happy Hollow Living Learning Lab

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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