Hunting for Creek Freaks and what Izaak Walton had to say about wisdom and the wonders of water

Last Updated by Kevin Woster on
Joey Sanovia gets up close and personal with a crayfish

They’ve been on my mind the last couple of days, the kid and the crawdad.

To say nothing of what they might mean to water quality for kids and crawdads for generations to come.

Wandering through the Earth Day Expo ecological displays at the Pennington County 4-H building on Saturday, I had to stop and stay for a while at the Izaak Walton League booth.

Who could pass up a kid and a crawdad, going eye to eye? Not me.

The kid was 6-year-old Joey Sanovia, who stopped by the Ikes display with his dad, Jim, to check out plastic trays filled with Rapid Creek water and Rapid Creek life. They were tiny little critters overall, including mayfly and damselfly nymphs that darted from corner to corner of the trays, like images you weren’t quite sure you actually saw out of the corner of your eye.

But these critters were real. And tiny. And quick. And somewhere in among all those mini-movements also skated little bits of life that Ikes local chapter President Mark Boddicker thought might be the wiggling larvae of the water snipe fly.

They can be tough to catch and separate for close-up consideration, so “think so” is good enough on this one.

There was no identity question on the crawdad, or crayfish if you prefer. Although small by crayfish standards, it was big enough and cooperative enough to give Joey a close look and squirming feel, which is just what Boddicker wanted to give kids on Saturday.

“We’re trying to get kids into the outdoors, and get them interested in what’s going on out there,” Boddicker said.

And with Rapid Creek just across the street, there was a ready supply of real-life educational tools.

“This is just water from the creek,” Boddicker said. “It gives kids a look at what’s in there.”

There are lots in there, of course. The Ike’s own namesake, 17th century English writer and angling philosopher Izaak Walton, said it pretty well himself, as you might expect: “The waters are nature’s storehouse, in which she locks up her wonders.”

Among the bigger wonders in Rapid Creek is a wild brown-trout population that inspires guys like me to slosh around up to our belly buttons in multiple layers of GoreTex, waving willowy rods above the water. The fishing ranges from good to excellent on days of reasonable weather, but the trash problem is magnified block by block as the creek runs through town.

By the time it passes the fairgrounds, Rapid Creek carries a collection of material insults to its own appearance and health, and to the aesthetics of a stream visit.

And it’s not just the way it looks, of course. There are known water-quality concerns. They include fecal coliform levels from Canyon Lake on down through town and out to the confluence with the Cheyenne River.

The pollutants led state water officials to list that portion of the creek as impaired and recommend against swimming and related recreation, although swim in it some still do. And, of course, those of us who fish it have our hands -- and occasionally more, if we happen to lose our balance on a tricky rock or underwater snag -- in the creek pretty regularly.

So it's something to think about.

A research team from the nearby South Dakota School of Mines and Technology continues to monitor that problem and its potential health impacts. And I’ll be joining that crew in the future for a blog here.

But back to the trash. On Saturday, members of a volunteer clean-up team from the Black Hills Area Geocachers took the debris problem along the creek into their own hands, one bag after another. Geocaching puts people in close contact with their environment, as they use their legs and lungs and, often, a good GPS system to hunt for strategically placed “geocaches” on a route that typically includes some lovely scenery.

There was lovely scenery along Rapid Creek on Saturday, and a scattering of the anti-lovely. Often what went into the bags packed by the geocachers was so un-lovely it was unsettling.

“Oh, what’s that?” Alicia McDonald asked as she examined an odd-shaped hunk of garbage stuck in the mud near the creek. “I don’t think I want to know.”

Nearby, David Sorensen asked no questions as he cleaned up the underbrush. And down the trail a bit Peggy Dibbern balanced precariously on a tree root jutting out into the water so she could collect some snagged trash with a metal reacher.

“Let’s see if I can get that without falling in,” she said.

She did. And once up on shore, she praised her geocaching pals for joining her in their annual cleanup of this particular stretch of creek.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t seem to care about Mother Earth. As geocachers, we try to be earth minded,” she said. “And maybe if it’s clean people will care more.”

Hundreds of people showed they did care by turning out for the March for Science Rapid City, which took them from the nearby South Dakota Mines campus to the fairgrounds and the Earth Day Expo.

That’s where Boddicker and other Ikes volunteers camped out for the two-day expo, trying to educate kids and entice recruits into becoming Creek Freaks. At 6, Joey Sanovia is a few years away from the program, which targets recruits from 10 to 14.

Ikes chapters in Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Watertown are involved in the program, which includes classroom education as well as field work in stream monitoring. Educators and students in the program can post photos and research results online at www.creekfreaks.net, a website which also includes more information on Creek Freaks.

There were a number of creek freaks, official and otherwise, at the expo and on the March for Science on Saturday. Eileen Roggenthen carried an American flag and a sign that read: “It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall — all over God’s green earth.”

The first part comes from Bob Dylan’s much-discussed song “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall," which has been interpreted to mean many things, including nuclear fallout and acid rain and media propaganda. All would have a relevant place in an Earth Day celebration and a March for Science.

Roggenthen is a Huron native whose husband, Bill, is a retired geology profession at South Dakota Mines and a regular collaborator with projects at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. She has been personally invested in science and the environment since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, which she covered for the Huron Plainsman while working part-time during college.

She said attacks on science are typically driven by those who stand to benefit from pollution activities and science denial.

“I always say just follow the money and you’ll see,” she said.

Like others at the march and attending the expo, Roggenthen said she worries about the impacts of cuts in environmental regulations and funding by the Trump Administration.

“I just think so much of that is taking us in the wrong direction,” she said. “And today, people who are worried about that just wanted to be heard.”

Many were heard and seen in Rapid City and elsewhere on Saturday. And most brought a message in support of fact-based science and clear environmental concern.

But nothing’s perfect. And there’s a little irony in almost everything. The geocachers saw that when they picked up a rubber wristband that read: Recycle. Reduce. Reuse.”

That one didn’t go in the trash bags. But a particularly ironic plastic water bottle did, after it was discarded by someone Dibbern says has just taken part in the March for Science.

“They were walking by and this woman just finished her water and threw the bottle away,” Dibbern said. “One of our group was shocked and asked her if she wasn’t going to pick up that bottle. And the woman just kept on walking.”

Which brings to mind another Izaak Walton quote:

“Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery elements are made for wise men to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration.”

I believe there was a lot more wise contemplation than foolish passing-by among marchers on Saturday. And magnified exponentially in marches across the nation, it’s a hopeful sign for science and the environment.

Which will be good for Creek Freaks, too.

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of SDPB, Friends of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, or the State of South Dakota.