>Science In The Name of Fun


Volunteer Coordinator Will Ridlehoover braves the clark fork in the name of science!

Adversity often inspires ingenuity. At least it did with Will and I on the Clark Fork last Sunday.
Our weekly Stream Team outing focused on a section of the river just down-stream from the Madison Street bridge, and as with any wide river, the physical attributes of the Clark Fork presented certain challenges for data collection that had to be overcome.

The Stream Team typically examines three major characteristics of the river. Chemical, biological and physical attributes are measured in order to give us an accurate picture as to the character and health of the river. The physical examination is comprised of factors such as water velocity, bank width, water depth and overall morphology or the “shape” of that river’s section. All factors are easy to measure in small streams, but a several hundred foot wide river presents a few challenges of equipment and logistics. Luckily, Will and I were feeling particularly industrious that day, and he had some swimming trunks in his car.

Typically the river’s depth and width area easily measured with a depth pole and survey line respectively, but the fast moving and especially deep water combined with the extremely wide section we chose to measure made our typical methods impractical. So with a few handfuls of rocks inside of the nylon bag of a throw rope and the use of a sharpie I fashioned a makeshift depth gauge inspired by my youth on the Mississippi river and the endless reminders of how Samuel Clemens chose his famous pseudonym. In the mean time, Will paddled his way across the river with the aid of an inner-tube to fix a static line to the opposite bank and returned to begin the measurement process. Using the static line to hold his position in the river, Will worked his way across and dropped our makeshift depth gauge every “tube width” (3 foot 2 inches) and sounded off a reading to be recorded on shore. Sixty five readings later, we determined the width to be no less than 205.83 feet across and an average depth of around 3.5 feet.

While this data was useful and important to record for many reasons that any WEN volunteer can explain,  the process of collecting it was important for some reasons you may not expect. Namely, it was hilarious. As Will worked his way slowly across the clark fork, the rest of the team recorded the data and chuckled at the increasingly louder depth reports echoing across the water, and the impressed expressions upon the faces of passers by. We always have fun on Stream Team, but when afforded the opportunity to innovate, be bold, and a little bit silly with like minded folks on the banks of a neighborhood river the experience becomes that much more powerful and rewarding. I can’t wait for next week, maybe we’ll find a way to build a submarine from Tupperware containers and driftwood.

Clinton Begley
Watershed Education Network

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