So OK, the water-logged golf ball – a soft-shelled “Srixon 4” by the way – may not have been a direct fit into The Parklands of Floyds Fork Outdoor Classroom program. But it was one of the early finds as a small herd of third and fourth graders from Our Lady of Lourdes School waded into Floyds Fork on a cold, bright and cheerful morning that would soon also yield crawdads, freshwater mussels, tiny darter fish and a 450-million-year-old fossil. The golf ball, pushed a few miles downstream over time from the Midland Trail Golf Club, was just a reminder of the difficulty of the sport and the ongoing reclamation of the river.
The school kids had first appeared about 9:00 a.m. in two big yellow buses to take part in a growing, multi-faceted Parklands program that includes the detailed study of plants, fish, water, wildlife and geology – and the complex relationships that created and sustain it all.The cost for this particular program is only $7 per student, and teachers and chaperones are free. If you’re interested in more information, call 502-584-0350 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rush of almost 100 students from Our Lady of Lourdes School was quickly divided into smaller groups for the various activities – plus about a half-dozen teachers and adult chaperones.
Some would first walk the woodlands and waterside trails while others would stay indoors to examine plant growth, animal pelts, rock formations and tree rings – some of that under a microscope.
Then the groups would switch places.
The first of the river waders fell in dutiful line behind Matt Lahm, a Parklands Interpretive Ranger who greeted his students in the 28-degree morning wearing a baseball cap, tennis shoes, insulated vest, light jacket and shorts.
More important, he was carrying overhead a large blue plastic tub filled with black rubber boots of several sizes the students would have to wear as they waded into the water.
Many of the students were wearing wool hats, sweat clothes, gloves and light jackets. Each grabbed a pair of boots – with correct sizes to be determined later – and off they went.
Lahm led them from the PNC Achievement Center to Floyds Fork along the Sycamore Trail where the big mottled trees learned out over the river, the tall vegetation was coated in white frost and the river, near its low ebb, slid past around piles of drift wood and gravel bars.
Here Lahm paused to explain to the student the importance of the gentle ripples of water above the gravel bars, the fact they helped add needed oxygen to the water to sustain the fish.
He mentioned the volatility of Floyds Fork, pointing to a place about 50 feet above the bank where heavy rains only a few days earlier had flattened vegetation and piled up tangles of debris.
He explained the relentless forces of time, place and geology; how the eight or nine feet of river gravel on which they were standing could be compressed into rock in a few million years.
He led the students along the trail for about a quarter-mile to a soft bend in the river where the water lay in a quiet pool and the bank was coated in fallen brown leaves.
There his prime mission temporarily changed from educator to outfitter; each of the school kids had to find a pair of boots to fit.
The students quickly traded pastel tennis shoes for black rubber boots – with the accompanying comment fitting the mission:
“Anybody need a size five?”
“I have a left-footed six.”
“I want this field trip to be over.”
Finally, with almost all the students in proper-sized boots and a few others waiting their turn, the safety-conscious Lahm added a warning that touched on environment, logic, physics, and gravity:
“Don’t go in any deeper than what your boots are.”
By then the rising sun and the students were all warming to the occasion. Into the Fork the students waded, each carrying a tiny black net to scoop through the shallow water to see what could be found.
The golf ball came first. Then, as the water became increasingly muddy with each step, the student’s tiny nets yielded the fresh water mussels, crawdads, darter fish, mosquitofish and even the occasional stink bug.
Always the teacher, Lahm dropped several of the finds into a clear plastic rectangular container, held it up to the sunlight and explained to the class the various attributes and characteristics of each.
Lahm was biology major in college with a graduate degree in teaching, but his naturalist’s learning curve was most influenced by being a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
“I got a lot of experience with outside stuff there,” he said. “I get as much out of these walks as the kids do. We’re having fun. We’re having a good time.
“I enjoy taking adults out, too. We get to do something they’ve not always done…It always works best for me when I’m not in the regular classroom.”
As the students returned with more and more catch, Lahm would carefully dig out each creature from the small nets. He explained there are about 20 species of mussels in Floyds Fork and about 40 species of fish – including trout being introduced on a seasonal basis for local fishermen.
He explained the role of mosquitofish in eating the insects, the numbers of rainbow darters in Floyds Fork, how and what the mussels eat.
One of the students found an old shell, an almost perfectly-formed brachiopod. Lahm held up its curved, fluted shell for closer inspection. He asked the students to guess its age. The answers – and final comment – came in numerical order.
First Guess: “One hundred years old.”
Second Guess: “Two hundred years old.”
Third Guess: “Six thousand years old.”
Fourth Guess: “A million years old.”
Lahm: “It’s about 450 million years old.”
Final Comment: “Boy, we were way off.”
Lahm’s creekside lessons came easily, naturally – with their lasting effect to be determined at some further point in time:
“A lot of the students never really forget these trips,” Lahm said. “The next time they go to the creek with family and friends they are going to remember.
“A lot of the learning is not even academic.”
Louisville native Kim Allgeier is Education and Interpretation Manager for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. Her background in education work at the Orlando Science Center in Florida and then the Kentucky Science Center in Louisville has helped her design the outdoor classes along Floyds Fork.
Their success has been instant and obvious: More than 1,000 students participated in school programs in October, including private, parochial and public schools.
“Every class has an outdoor element,” she said. “It’s experiential education, letting the kids see, touch, smell and explore with their own hands.”
Allgeier said the key to the program’s success has been working closely with teachers and the advisory council in the Jefferson County Public School system – and in particular Lynn Luking, a retired teacher and advisor.
The meetings led to Allgeier incorporating the same research-based FOSS science curriculum into The Parklands programs that’s being used in Jefferson County schools.
“We made the close connection to the Jefferson County teachers and included the state and national standards,” said Allgeier. “I’m actually so excited at the amount of enthusiasm we’ve gotten from teachers.”
Her future goals include adding some alternative disciplines; cultural history, English and literature programs, thus adding another dimension to things learned and great thoughts considered while wading into water.
She plans to expand the Outdoor Classroom into the high school level, to connect students into scientific research into Floyds Fork being done by local colleges and universities.
At this point there are no plans to add golf lessons for members of the Midland Trail Golf Club.
About the Author
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system – all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill’s stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.