Ward Lake's main beach on Thursday was lively with enthusiastic fifth graders who were racing through a "bears and fishes" game, studying tiny creatures, and exploring the forest to practice tree species identification.
U.S. Forest Service and Ketchikan Indian Community staff were guiding groups of Point Higgins Elementary and Ketchikan Charter School students through six stations offering hands-on educational projects during the Forest Service's "Ward Lake Education Week."
Each day of that week students from different elementary schools attended the event.
Fisheries Biologist Hunter Lucas said that the student groups were given about 25 minutes to visit each station.
The stations featured were fish and macroinvertebrate identification, the bears and fishes game, leave-no-trace, wilderness safety, forestry, and a KIC station featuring invasive European green crab and paralytic shellfish poisoning information.
Several students were gathered around an aquarium sitting on a picnic table in the lake's largest shelter. The aquarium was stocked with several types of creatures, including a young coho salmon and other small fish, including a juvenile lamprey. Placed alongside the aquarium were informational sheets with facts about and illustrations of each creature.
Near the aquarium were three white trays filled with bits of lake weed with small invertebrates including stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies tucked into the fronds.
Students were discussing their finds with each other, studying creatures with magnifying glasses and calling out their enthusiastic comments.
One unidentified boy's voice rose above the others, proclaiming, "I want to learn everything I can here, man!"
Ketchikan Charter School student Shilloh Margaja described what he had studied that morning, after excitedly announcing that he'd learned to identify a Sitka spruce earlier.
"We've learned about the trees, these weird bacteria things and types of plants," as well as the toxins that can be found in shellfish, he said.
Margaja said that the most surprising thing he'd learned was the shellfish safety facts.
His favorite part of the event, he said, had been walking through the woods to learn about how to identify red cedars and red alders as well as the spruces.
"Searching for them was pretty fun," he said.
KCS student Juliana Ashcraft said that her favorite part of the event had been studying the aquatic creatures.
When asked whether she'd been surprised by anything she'd learned that day, she said, "the little stoneflies and the mayflies they do like, pushups for oxygen."
KCS student Greta Cron said that she'd enjoy all of the activities she'd done that day. She said she had learned some new facts about the invertebrates, especially.
"I didn't know they'd have all of the mayflies and the stoneflies in Ward Lake," she said.
Cron said that she had participated in a biology project at Ward Lake last year, when she was in fourth grade.
"I went to Ward Lake and we studied about bats," she said.
Lucas was assisting other students with knowing how to tell the difference between the stoneflies and the mayflies.
"If you can look at their tails and count how many tails they have, that's a good indicator to figure out if it's a stonefly or a mayfly," Lucas said, adding, "a fun way to remember if it's a mayfly — do you see how its tail makes an 'M' shape? You can remember that for 'mayfly.'"
KCS student Morgan Presnell said that the fish and macroinvertebrate station had been her favorite station to visit.
Point Higgins student Madeline Munhoven said that she'd had fun learning facts about sharks.
Point Higgins student Tatum Schlecht said she'd learned that she could "lift up rocks and there's little bugs" under them. She said that she'd found an interesting bug with really long legs that day.
Point Higgins student Lily Richards said a useful fact that she learned during the event was "you never take a shortcut."
She explained she'd learned that "when you go on Deer Mountain, people get interested in going down deer trails and they get lost on the wrong path."
Point Higgins student Faith Pendergrass further explained that they'd been taught at the event that when hiking, they should look all around when they start hiking to identify landmarks.
Schlecht added, "you want to tell somebody before you go off somewhere, like hiking or somewhere, just in case you get lost."
Point Higgins student Evan Roskam said he'd learned that it's a best practice when camping in a campground to not yell or be loud, because other people might be trying to sleep.
Roskam said that he also found the facts about identifying the mayflies and stoneflies very interesting.
His favorite activity that day was learning about bears and fish.
"The bears would stand on the edge of the waterfall waiting for the fish to come," he said.
KCS student Charles Cumings also shared the memorable facts he'd learned that day.
"It was fun learning about there's actual bears or like, sharks and stuff that actually ate clams" that sickened them, he said. "They get the same kind of things that humans would if they ate it or something."
Point Higgins student Benjamin Thompson said that he found the information about shellfish particularly interesting.
"There's some kind of plankton that can be very harmful," he said. "That's why there's such a thing as the red tide. There's like these bears and wolves and all these other animals that were very harmed."
Thompson said that he'd never been a part of such an event before.
"I feel very lucky to do this," he said.