COLRAIN — First-graders at Colrain Central School got their new pet project Tuesday.
Daniel Marchant, manager of the Roger Reed Hatchery in Palmer, came bearing roughly 200 brook trout eggs for the youngsters to hatch and raise until it is time to release them into the North River in the spring. The school signed on to the state’s Teaching with Trout program after an unknown volume of acid leaked from a seam in a holding tank at Barnhardt Manufacturing Company on Sept. 1, resulting in the death of thousands — potentially tens of thousands — of fish. Barnhardt, at 247 Main Road, manufactures bleached cotton fiber products.
Principal Amy Looman said the fish kill had a profound impact on the school’s students, some of whom live on the river and saw the dead fish. She said first-grade teacher Lena Jillson and Service-Learning Coordinator Talia Miller got together to help facilitate a way, through a service-learning project, for students to help the local environment recover from the acid leak. Looman said “the idea is that you take academic content and deliver it in a way that helps students to see their connection to the community and themselves as problem-solvers.”
Marchant, who works for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said the hatchery’s job is to raise fish — primarily trout and salmon — to stock in the state’s rivers and streams for the public’s recreational fishing. He brought a plastic bag of brook trout eggs and showed them to the first-graders before placing them on a platform in an aquarium in the classroom. Marchant explained the eggs will hatch in about a month and be roughly ¾-inch long. By spring, they will grow to be 1½ to 3 inches, depending on how much food they are given.
When they hatch, Marchant said, the fish have a yolk sack that carries their nutrition for the first few weeks of life. The students will then need to feed the fish to help them survive.
Marchant said when the fish hatch from the eggs, they will descend from the platform into the tank gravel, hidden by rocks until they absorb the yolk sack.
Kevin Parsons, past president of the conservation organization Deerfield River Watershed Trout Unlimited, also spoke to the students, explaining he attended the school 50 years ago and grew up three-quarters of a mile away from the building. He told the students he was grateful for their efforts to keep the river healthy.
“There were a lot of fish that were killed,” he said, adding that insects, crayfish and other critters were also affected by the acid leak. “So it’s really cool that you guys are jumping on board, helping us, helping the environment, to bring some fish back to the river.
“We really appreciate you guys getting involved, that you guys care about the river,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for you guys to watch eggs grow up into fish, then when you put them into the river in the spring, it’ll be really awesome.”
Before the guests arrived, Jillson led the students in singing a song the class wrote about rivers.
“May the river run free/From the mountains/Past hills and valley/Through town and city/May it gather clean water/With some help from you and me,” the chorus goes. “The area around the river/Is called a watershed/It’s almost like the water/From the land to the river bed.”
Reach Domenic Poli at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.