Organization exposes kids to nature to help foster environmentalism

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Searching for bugs while trekking through cool, refreshing water. For many kids, it’s a favorite summer pastime.

“When I was little, I used to collect dead insects and shells of insects so I could have a big collection,” said Pennington resident Alexa Lockyer.

“When I was little, I even had this backpack where you could catch little bugs,” said Zachary Phelan, Lawrenceville resident.

It’s something campers are still doing at The Watershed Institute, an environmental organization that focuses on keeping water clean, safe and healthy.

“We’re trying to minimize our impact from our lifestyle on the quality of water, and that happens at the surface level initially,” said education director Jeff Hoagland.

Kids skim for water insects in the Stony Brook.

“The Stony Brook and all waterways need to be healthy because, ultimately, they are a drinking water source. The Stony Brook heads into the Millstone River, which a number of communities draw water from that river for drinking,” said Hoagland.

The 8- and 9-year-olds collected all sorts of insects and a number of crayfish. The Watershed Institute staffers say many of the animals are a good indicator of healthy water.

“Because different insects in the water, have a different tolerance to pollution,” said Corinne Del Grande, group leader at Watershed Nature Camp.

What was it like for the kids looking for insects?

“It was kind of hard because they sometimes run away,” said Lawrenceville resident Valentina Figueroa-Valik. “But it’s also pretty fun and it’s also really exciting when you do catch one.”

Hoagland says the institute’s educational outreach creates a sense of intimacy with the natural world and builds a foundation for science.

“We are really wreaking havoc on the environment. So without burdening students, we want them to understand our role in this — how are we living on this, how can we change that? And students inherently want to minimize their impact. They do they care,” said Hoagland.

He hopes the experience helps the children, our future generation, value these little critters and the water they live in.

“These are our neighbors and we need to sort of relate to them as that in that way and understand that these are things that belong as much as we belong,” Hoagland said.