Klaes leads science students to "Environmental Solutions"

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Clayton Ridge Environmental Science students presented their "Environmental Solutions" projects to city leaders on May 24. The projects focused on proposing ideas for solutions to Guttenberg's ponding areas. From left are former Clayton Ridge Superintendent and Past Mayor Russ Loven and presenter Ryleigh Goerdt. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Quality educators understand the value in real-world learning. Jonathan Klaes, Clayton Ridge High School science teacher assigned his Environmental Science students an "Environmental Solutions" project as part of their end of the year final.  "This year, we are focusing on proposing ideas for solutions to some of the issues surrounding the Guttenberg ponding areas," says Klaes. "The students picked topics ranging from soil and water management to ADA compliance to visual aesthetics. The final project included a poster with a proposal for a solution to the issue(s) of their choosing."

The Clayton Ridge students presented their completed projects to city leaders on May 24. "I came up with the idea, but the students have really done a good job of taking the lead in researching solutions to those problems," he proudly shared. "We took a field trip to the ponds and essentially identified certain areas of focus for them to base their project on."

The dedicated science teacher wanted to encourage his students to become involved in their community. "I think it is important for students to be active in their community," he stressed. "The ponds have also been an area of focus for our city lately with the dredging project, so it is a current event for our town and something our students are familiar with. Also, a lot of their learning this year had to do with Earth's water, geological, and ecosystems, so I felt that these kids have a strong knowledge background to start to apply locally."

The science students were concerned about the lack of biodiversity on area ponds. "The field trip to the ponds also involved a species survey, which showed a pretty low amount of biodiversity," Klaes pointed out. "The ponds are home to a few species of waterfowl, but the only true residents are the Canada geese. There were also some dabbler ducks, like Blue-Winged Teal and a pair of Mallards. Other birds, like red-winged blackbirds are frequent. Outside of this, the small amount of habitat and shallow depth make it hard for a lot of species to make the ponds their home. The students are very passionate about doing things to increase the number of species that use the ponds."

The ponds' shallow depth makes it difficult to support fish. "There are a few hardy species in the ponds; on our field trip, the students observed both live and dead bluegills and other sunfish species, as well as the non-native common carp," he reported. "There could be other species there, but the shallow depth makes it difficult for a large population to be sustained. My students agreed that the ponds likely require some habitat rehabilitation to sustain a healthy population of fish."

The health of area ponds directly impacts our environment. "The ponds provide a few ecological services for us; they retain water that could otherwise flood houses and businesses, and allow that water to seep back into the aquifer instead," he explained. "They also act as a filter for that water before it makes its way back into the river. Vegetation in the ponds uses up nutrients like nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers before heading to the river. Those nutrients are likely also why we see algae blooms in the ponds. The ponds also provide a stop for a lot of migrating waterfowl, including Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks, teal, and this year a large group of northern shoveler ducks used the ponds for quite a while."

Our local ponds also impact tourism. "A lot of people judge a town by its initial appearance, and a lot of folks' impressions of Guttenberg are probably influenced by the ponds as they pass through on Highway 52," he noted. "A few of my students decided to focus their project on the aesthetic of the ponds, and on walk-in access to some of the areas; if you asked them, they would tell you that it is important to make our ponds an aesthetically pleasing place to go for our residents and tourists alike. We have a lot of potential to create a space to attract people from all over for various recreational activities that could range from walking/jogging, to fishing, to bird watching or nature viewing, and to picnics. All this, while increasing the capacity of the ponds to complete their ecological services and increasing the biodiversity."

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