LAKES ALIVE: Place-based Science & Art

by Cheryl Daigle

img_0907My favorite part of leading any program activity is that transformative moment when people who appear disengaged suddenly start paying attention. You can see their faces light up, and a spark appear in their eyes. This is particularly fun and gratifying when I see it happen in children during our Lakes Alive! program activities. Recently, one sleepy middle-schooler seemed unhappy to be dropped off late with the camp group I led for a day, and she resisted nudges to participate in introductory discussion. But, when I asked who wanted to be photographers for our outing, holding up my Nikon and Canon SLR cameras, her eyes lit up and she immediately raised her hand. She took on that job with a quiet enthusiasm and seriousness, documenting the landscape along our lakeshore hike and eagerly participating in art activities later in the afternoon.

It only takes a moment to discover what captures the attention of individuals who are a bit reticent to participate, and their engagement then infuses energy into the whole group experience. And if you, reading this now, can remember special moments outdoors that helped bring you back to a place, or to develop a hobby, perhaps even to a career, then you know that moment of engagement can have ripple effects throughout a lifetime.

Bringing children to the lakeshore and out on our floating classroom, the Melinda Ann, makes it easier to engage children and the adults who accompany them, in greater understanding of how critical a role we play in protecting our freshwater resources. We connect them to their place in the world, and show them how the streams and rivers in their region and our land management practices along shore influence the health of the lakes and ponds in their community.

It’s part science, part tactile experience – maneuvering small hands around technological equipment, touching the water, feeling the movement of the boat and the wind brushing against their hair, then seeing what resides in what appears to be simply clear water, paying a new attention to how diverse life is, from the smallest of creatures that require the aid of microscopes and monitors to see, to the loons that unexpectedly pop up out of the water, the osprey flying overhead, and the sunfish hustling away from our shadows.

13174079_1755692067976509_7457950224902735475_nAll of this is mixed with moments to enjoy viewing the lake landscape from a boat and the simple joy of being outdoors with friends and classmates. Both the lakeshore exploration and being out on the water combine to provide a more complete understanding of where the children live and how we can all be better stewards in protecting what we love about our communities. Indeed, these activities help cultivate this love, so that they will feel inspired to be good stewards as they grow within their community.

Hooked on Fishing
We are excited about a new collaboration with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to incorporate the Hooked on Fishing program into our Lakes Alive! programming. With grants from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Onion Foundation we will begin by collaborating with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and with diverse groups in the Old Town and Bangor area, including Old Town Recreation, Maine Discovery Museum, Maine Youth Fish & Game Association, and Hirundo Wildlife Refuge. These collaborations bring hands-on experiences out on our lakes, rivers and streams to hundreds of children, and provide models for other programs around the state.

We believe if we give these children multiple opportunities to see and handle the fish, to view water loving wildlife, to learn from the science and stewardship of water quality monitoring and care of the landscape, and to create through art their own reflections of what they see, we are cultivating our next generation of lake enthusiasts and stewards who understand the value of our water resources to their community and know how to care for them.

Thank you to the Onion Foundation, L.L. Bean, and Patagonia, for supporting our Lakes Alive! program in 2016! For more information about Lakes Alive! and boat trips on the Melinda Ann, contact Cheryl Daigle at