In the fall of 2016, Friends of the Rappahannock kicked off the second year of our Trout in the Classroom (TIC) program thanks to an Environmental Education grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). TIC is a nationwide program run by our partners at Trout Unlimited designed to work with students towards the goal of restoring native trout populations in coldwater streams throughout the United States. Our program in the Rappahannock River watershed is in partnership with the Rapidan Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), Graves Mountain Lodge, and the amazing teachers that care for our trout tanks in their classrooms during the school year.
This year we were able to bring the TIC program to three schools across the Rappahannock River watershed including Orange County High School, Rappahannock High School, and Wetsel Middle School. In addition to hosting three tanks in schools, FOR was able to host a tank at our nature center in Fredericksburg! Each of these tanks were managed every day by students, teachers, volunteers, and various staff to ensure the water quality was suitable for the eventual introduction of brook trout eggs.
Once the tanks were set up and the water temperature and chemistry was correct, it was time for the delivery of the eggs! Thats right, this program starts with native brook trout eggs straight from a DGIF hatchery in Virginia. The students had to prep their tank for the egg delivery and watch patiently until they began to hatch. Each school received around 100 eggs to start their program and as they began to hatch, FOR supplemented additional fish from our tank at HQ.
Once the trout began to hatch it was serious business maintaining the tank and water quality. Students were tasked with daily water quality monitoring to ensure the best conditions for the baby trout. This included sampling for ammonia, nitrates, pH, temperature, and ensuring the bacteria levels were correct. After a couple weeks of feeding, the trout began to develop spots and color and show their true beautiful colors. This video shows the baby brook trout about halfway through the program.
In spring of 2017 it was time to start thinking about the big release. This is the culminating event of the entire program. The students join FOR staff, partners, and volunteers on a headwater tributary of the Rapidan River called the Rose River. Each school was able to join us for a separate released date which made the experience very intimate and special for all involved.
Before the students were able to release the brook trout, we tasked them with a series of investigations to ensure the habitat was suitable for the trout. This required them to use all the knowledge and skills they had developed over the course of the program including knowledge of trout habitat, water chemistry, macroinvertebrates, and other considerations.
Once the students had reported back that the water conditions and habitat were suitable for the trout, we began to release the baby brook trout one by one, making sure each student had the opportunity to liberate a trout of their own. Once the final day of releases was complete with all three schools, approximately 200 brook trout we released into the wild in the hopes of long term survival and reproduction to increase populations in the region. This program would not have been possible without the funding provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and the support from the teachers, students, trout unlimited members, and our volunteers. Thank you to everyone who made this program such an overwhelming success and we look forward to next year!