HIGHLAND PARK/HIGHWOOD – The restored ravine stream at Rosewood Beach is stocked for spring, thanks to students from local schools who have been raising trout since mid-November and recently released them into the ravine water.
Oak Terrace and Ravinia elementary schools and Highland Park High School participated in Trout in the Classroom, raising rainbow trout provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“The kids raise them from the middle of November until release time,” said Bob DeGraff, coordinator for Trout in the Classroom from the Gary Borger Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Students began releasing trout on April 18, and DailyNorthShore caught up with Oak Terrace fifth graders at the ravine on April 26.
The students were paired off to release the fish. One student held a cup filled with water and a small trout, while the other student held another cup filled with water to help wash the trout down a trough into the stream.
The trout were raised in Steve Hodgson’s fourth grade class, and his students dropped the tank off at the beach earlier that day.
Anna Neblo and Jose Quintana were partners in Nora Burton’s fifth grade class.
“At first the tank was covered with black paper when the eggs were hatching,” said Anna. “It needed to be really dark when they were young, because it’s dark underwater. Eventually they took it off and you could see them swimming around.”
After Anna and Jose released the fish, Anna said the trout looked really happy to be free.
Jose said, “”I like that we got to learn outside. It was fun.”
DailyNorthShore also spoke to Faye Steinfink and Jessie Hernandez. “It was really cool how we got to release the trout into the ravines,” said Faye, a Robert Barnard Character Counts Pillar Awards recipient. Her trout-release partner Jessie Hernandez added that he liked watching the trout swim in the stream.
Burton has been involved in the trout release program for four years, and was appreciative of this year’s uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather, as it had rained the previous year. She offered one suggestion since fourth grade teacher Hodgson will be retiring.
“We’re thinking about a partnership where the fifth graders will be responsible for raising the trout next time, so that way they’ll have a more personal connection when we do this again,” said Burton.
Rebecca Grill, natural areas manager for the Park District of Highland Park, explained another benefit of the trout release program: “As part of that activity the kids come down here to test the water to see that it’s good for the fish,” she said. “They’ve been testing their tank water, so they’re making this connection to water quality and their connection to Lake Michigan, because that’s where the fish will end up living hopefully.”
Grill continued, “These fish key in on their natal stream and the theory is that they return to spawn at the same stream where they launched. They imprint on this water. Anecdotally speaking, we’ve had large trout come into our Ravine Drive project, and they look like they’re about three years old, about three years after the release. We like to think that they were our trout.”
Grill said the trout release program began in 2012, but the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Funding enabled the Park District to create a fish habitat in 2010.
“We had a hunch that fish wanted to live in these streams,” she said. “There were historical records and we went to another location, Ravine Drive Beach, and we used that to open the passageway up to the lake, so that fish would swim out in the springtime and spawn. Sure enough, we opened that up, and out came these amazing white sucker fish that are Lake Michigan natives.”
The Park District also wanted to create an Interpretive Center to talk to the community about the importance of the lakefront for not only drinking water, but for the ravine life.
“People live on these ravines and at certain times of the year have fish living in their backyards,” said Grill. That’s when the park district teamed up with Trout Unlimited and “through Trout Unlimited’s support we launched a monitoring program and that’s how we got our funding and now we get to do this with the kids.”
The trout release events are a culmination of “Trout in the Classroom,” a partnership between the Park District of Highland Park, North Shore School District 112, District 113, and the Gary Borger Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the local arm of the national conservation organization, which sponsored the purchase of food, tank and equipment for the fish, The fish events will be by staff from Heller Nature Center and the District’s Natural Areas Program, according to a press release.