Prior to attending the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association’s HERYN (Helping Engage our River’s Youth with Nature) program day on June 22, 12-year-old Liya Shimony, of Lewisburg, had never caught a fish and only paddled a kayak three times.
“I learned how to paddle more efficiently, turn around on a kayak and how to fish,” she said after the seven-hour program day in which she caught 13 fish and built her kayaking confidence to a point where she tackled several late-afternoon competitions. “I really enjoyed the fun games that we played on the kayaks, catching fish and cooking the fish.”
“It was so cool working with kids with no prior experience and being a part of their first time fishing or kayaking. It was really rewarding,” he said. “You get to see their face light up the first time they hold a fish they caught and realize it isn't going to hurt them. It was such a great experience.”
The program drew 73 participants – most of which were in the 10-13 year-old age category – from 10 different counties. They caught more than 725 fish over the six-day span, releasing all but a few used for a cooking demonstration for each day’s participants.
“I loved both the fishing and kayaking,” said 10-year-old Amelia Frost, of Montgomery, who admitted she learned quite a bit, especially on the fishing side of things. “Now, I can teach my dad everything!”
Beyond the kayaking and fishing instruction, participants were encouraged to soak in the natural environment.
“Nowadays kids get attached to cell phones and videos games at a super young age and they miss out on learning about nature and then as they grow up they don’t have any interest in outdoor activities,” said 17-year-old Kyleigh Price, of Northumberland, who helped with kayaking instruction and competitions. “Giving kids the opportunity to learn about the outdoors at a young age gives them knowledge that they can continue to use or even use later in life.”
At the end of each program day, Susquehanna University intern Morgan Thomas provided a presentation on watersheds and how pollution can come inadvertently from our day-to-day activities.
“The more you understand nature, the more you appreciate how much of a gift it is,” said Thomas, who challenged participants to consider a few realistic changes they could make at home to better protect the aquatic ecosystem.
“I can continue recycling and use less water,” suggested Shimony in her end-of-day program survey. “In addition, I can teach others about our polluted watershed.”
For more information about the HERYN program, which will be offering new program days in the near future, visit MiddleSusquehannaRiverkeeper.org.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.