Water Study class starts with a simple question: “What do you notice about the river?”
Outdoor School students pepper the teacher with ideas: You drive in the river. And swim. And fish. And kayak.
“And it’s so clear!” a student shouts.
Good water stewardship means people downstream get good water. That’s why Kevin Wessels, assistant director of stewardship, works constantly to help limit the impact 30,000 visitors might have on the river and the land.
The river is quite literally the life of the Frio Canyon and beyond. It flows downstream to the entire 200-mile watershed, through Garner State Park, filling the reservoir at Choke Canyon State Park, and finally pouring itself out into the Nueces River just south of Three Rivers, Texas.
“We track a variety of indicators for river health,” Kevin said, “such as indicator species like the mayfly nymph and the caddisfly larva, the flow of our seeps and springs, and of course the water quality.”
In 2019, Texas A&M University analyzed water samples from the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp and found no significant difference in quality between water entering the property at Blue Hole Preserve and the water exiting the property at the Echo Valley lower dam.
We’re pretty excited about that. And so are the Outdoor School students. Tasha McKinney, the assistant director of programming, enjoys opening students’ eyes to the life of the river. She helps them don waders and hands them each a dipnet.
“They think the river is just fish and turtles,” Tasha says. “So we let them play scientist, catch specimens, and study them.” Then, they realize a clean river means more than just fish and turtles, and their eyes are opened to all of the amazing things hiding under their noses.