Moon Area Middle School students say goodbye to class project

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Moon Area eighth-graders spent part of a recent morning on the banks of Meeks Run, scanning the gently moving current for signs of George the brook trout — one of about 100 fish just released as a conservation effort to bring the native species back to the creek.

“George,” a little larger than the rest of the fingerlings raised by Frank Todd’s eighth-grade physical science students, appeared to be a project favorite of some of the 10 student volunteers helping to raise the fish as part of a Trout in the Classroom project, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The release April 24 into Montour Woods Conservation Area, a joint venture between the school district and Hollow Oak Land Trust, is to become an annual class project for eighth-graders.

Dressed in jackets and boots, the small group of boys and girls were ready for the muddy banks and a chilly late April morning. While working along the tributary, the students saw a flyover by Canada geese, various types of birds and the arrival of a small group of deer.

Near Pittsburgh International Airport, a few flyovers of a noisier sort went virtually unnoticed.

In November, Mr. Todd received about 270 viable fish eggs from a hatchery in Bellefonte. He expected 20 to 30 fish to survive for the spring launch and was impressed when the students managed to raise about 100.

The project encompassed more than just feeding the fish and cleaning the tank. Students learned about cold water conservation, ecology, mathematics and, of course, science.

“It’s like raising a kid,” said student Matthew Spangler of Moon. “Some get really, really big and some others are small.”

Using student Lena Wilhelm’s front yard as a staging area, the students released the fish from the 5-gallon buckets they were transported in by slowly raising the temperature of the water to match that of the creek.

Additionally, the group performed water quality testing and macroinvertebrate collection and identification and participated in a nature walk on Meeks Run Trail through part of a 260-acre conservation district owned and managed by Hollow Oak. The parcel, which includes more than six miles of trails, is located between the 300-acre Moon Park and the Montour Trail with trail head parking on Hassam Road and at the end of Downing Drive in Moon.

Meeks Run was chosen not only for its location but also for its status as one of the healthier streams in the Montour Run watershed, said Sean Brady, executive director of Hollow Oak.

The stream is cleaner than most because it is situated in a valley that was not mined for coal. That is a rarity in these parts, said Amy Miller, watershed specialist with the Allegheny County Conservation District.

A partially shaded headwater stream, Meeks Run supports 16 species of fish, including wild brown trout and several species of darters, and connects to Montour Run, which ultimately empties into the Ohio River. Additionally, the area is not heavily developed and housing — mainly located in the Londonbury neighborhoods — consists of large wooded lots that cut down on the impact to the stream.

“Bringing them here is one of our best bets to keeping them alive,” said Matthew, 13.

The successful addition of Pennsylvania’s state fish will depend on the weather this summer.

“Not all will make it, but some will,” Ms. Miller said. “It depends on how hot our summer is and if there are many linked together 90-degree days. Temperature is the biggest threat.”

Survival rate of the young brookies will be monitored as part of a Duquesne University environmental science internship program.

The students have kept five Brook trout in their classroom to monitor through the end of the school year. They ultimately will be released into Meeks Run.


Sonja Reis, freelance writer:

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