Monday, May 2, 2011

What do our rivers and mini-golf have in common?

Why, migrating salmon, of course!

For a number of years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has set up a "Salmon Life Cycle Mini-Golf" course at local events to educate the public about the journey salmon take, all the way out to the ocean and back to their natal streams. Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in this outreach effort when I helped staff the FWS booth at the Clark County Home and Garden Idea Fair. I really had no idea what to expect, but when I arrived and saw the mini-golf setup, I was very impressed!

Basically, you have to guide your ball (salmon) through five holes that depict the different challenges and obstacles salmon have to overcome as they make their way to the ocean and then back to their home streams to spawn. You have to avoid predators such as birds and other fish, make your way through a dam, risk being harvested by fishing boats and anglers, and find your way back upstream using a fish ladder to pass a dam so that you can get home to spawn. Want to see?

Wow - look at all that traffic! We were set up in the kids' activities section, near the "environmental interests" exhibits, so we had a lot of people visit our golf course. We had people of all ages, ranging from cadet fire fighters, to adults hoping to hone their putting skills, to kids who just wanted to have a good time. I hope that we were able to teach them something while they were having fun!

Here's me, trying to navigate my way through the ocean. Look out for that orca! In all honesty, I'm not a very good golfer. I concluded that if I were a salmon, I probably wouldn't last long!

This was my favorite hole. You have to get through the dam, avoiding predators waiting to munch on you for a snack, while trying to not to get killed in turbines. The turbines inside the dam actually spin, and you either get dumped out on the other side, or get kicked out altogether (i.e., you didn't make it). Usually, when I asked someone what they learned about being a salmon, the answer was "it's really hard". Yup!

There were lots of other fun activities nearby. Here, Dave takes a break from our booth and golf course to demonstrate the proper way to make a peanut-butter and birdseed pine cone bird feeder:

Way to go, Dave! We were also visited by Terra of Waste Connections, Inc. Make sure you dispose of those plastic bags properly, or better yet, avoid plastic bags and purchase cloth bags that you can use over and over again!

Aside from mini-golf, our booth attracted many visitors as well. We had a lot of items to give away - favorites were posters and coloring books. We also provided a ton of information on the local wildlife refuges, hatcheries, and work that the Service does to conserve our native species and habitats. And of course, we gave away temporary tattoos to those tough enough to sport the Fish and Wildlife Service logo:

I had a great day out of the office, interacting with members of the public. While it was a lot of fun helping people learn about what we do and how they can help, it was even more rewarding to know that there are a lot of people who care about the environment and how they can play an active role in conserving it. Next time the fair comes around, make sure to visit, stop by and say hello!

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