By Pete Wurdock

Five months ago, Ann McFadden’s third graders began an enlightening and educational adventure called the “Salmon in the Classroom” project. On Thursday, May 18, 2023 the efforts of their collective adventure came to fruition when they released the Chinook salmon into the Tahquamenon River.

At the beginning of December, McFadden was given 125 salmon eggs from the Marquette State Fish Hatchery. McFadden met Michigan Department of Natural Resources protocol and obtained a Special Collectors Permit. During the months that followed, the salmon grew to about 3 inches long.

The educational activities came with the Salmon in the Class program created by the Michigan Department of Natural resources (DNR.) This was McFadden’s second year involving her students with the program.

With amazing speed, the eggs morphed into living creatures inside the custom-made 75 gallon aquarium outside of the Tahquamenon Area Schools cafeteria. The display was a marvel for all the kids at TAS to see and participate before they grew into the fingerlings.

Release day was a time of fun and continued learning. The students took a bus to the Rivermouth Campground in Paradise. Their first activity was a scavenger hunt, where each student had to identify multiple items on a prepared list. They searched the forest in search of pine cones, wild flowers, spider webs, and other interesting discoveries. Then they recapped what they’d learned while raising the fish.

Student Reid Berles thought the event was fantastic. “We learned how the sac fry stages after the eggs and how the sac frys raised at the school without river water needed to have river water added before they were released to get used to it a little more.”

The starting point for the game was identified with a sign representing their egg station from November. Then kids drew a card and followed a statement that highlighted real world events that could affect the life of the salmon.

For example, if a student drew the card that said “An invasive sea lamprey latches onto you and slows you down,” they had to waddle slowly to the next destination.

It also introduced the realities of nature and survival of the fittest. “You’re a goner after a gull snatches you up for dinner.” Or “Watch out! You narrowly escape the predaceous diving beetle! Crawl ahead three steps to move to station seven.”

The main event was when the 36 kids lined up on the river’s edge, each patiently waiting for their turn to say goodbye to a fish and release it into the river.

The DNR was on hand to assist with the salmon release. “The fish are disoriented at first, going from the confines of an aquarium into the Tahquamenon River,” said Terry Trepanier, DNR Interpreter for Tahquamenon Falls State Park. “That is, until they find their bearings and seek their own little environment and adapt.”

Chinook salmon remain in the river for 2-3 years before venturing out into Lake Superior and don’t fully mature until about year 4.

Chesnee Curley summed it up by affirming that “This is the best field trip we’ve had by far.”

Third grader Paige Freeman, a.k.a. “Super Paige,” liked everything about the event. “I like the games we played today because they were a recap of what we all learned, so we don’t forget it.” Her classmate, Betty Ann Brown, said it was fun to watch the fish grow throughout the year.

The day at the river was an experience these kids will always remember, much like Ann McFadden, a teacher the kids will never forget.

To contribute to the future of the Salmon in the Classroom project, contact Ann McFadden at the school.