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Murray Journal

Fifth-graders boost fish population at Murray’s popular Willow Pond with unusual project

Jun 18, 2018 03:34PM ● By Carl Fauver

Mill Creek Elementary fifth-graders watched fish hatch in classroom aquariums and later released them into Murray’s Willow Pond. (Emily Hall)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Mill Creek Elementary School fifth-graders enjoyed an unusual class project this year, where they learned about the “circle of life,” environmental stewardship and survival of the fittest.  

A lot to be contained in three 20-gallon aquariums, for sure. 

And when their work was done at the school, the kids — and their three teachers — shared their accomplishment with the world, at Utah’s most popular fishing hole: Murray’s Willow Pond (6100 South 900 West).   

“This project was one of the most rewarding I have ever done in the classroom—a perfect 10,” said teacher Carla Hall. “The students learned so much about wildlife management and science. It was terrific. And I’ve also got to give my husband a lot of credit for helping us out.”

Her husband, Blaine Hall, works in Grantsville, for Cargill, a worldwide company that harvests salt from the Great Salt Lake. 

“Cargill partners with Trout Unlimited on various community outreach programs,” Blaine said. “My wife and I discussed it — and she spoke with her fellow fifth-grade teachers — and we came upon the idea of hatching trout eggs in classroom aquariums to release into the wild.” 

To get the $7,500 necessary to purchase three aquariums, lights, nets and other equipment, Blaine Hall wrote a grant proposal, which was considered and approved by Cargill executives here in Utah and nationally.

“The most expensive things we needed to purchase were water cooling machines,” Hall added. “Trout eggs require the water to be about 52 degrees in order to hatch.” 

In January, just after their holiday break, Mill Creek fifth-grade teachers Carla Hall, Kathryn Shields and Jackson Bellaimey each received the equipment they needed in their classrooms. Not long after that, the Utah Division of Natural Resources provided each class with 300 brook trout eggs. 

The surrogate parenting had begun. 

“The fish were a wonderful addition to my class, because it is all set up in a ‘Harry Potter theme,’” Shields said. “So this is how my students provided care for magical creatures. The kids embraced the project immediately and really learned a lot.” 

Student Chase Keesen agrees. “It sounded boring at the start, but turned out to really be fun,” Keesen said. “It was fun to feed them and release them. I also liked learning about the circle of life.” 

Chase’s classmate Jane Walker added. 

“We were all given different assignments to care for the fish,” she said. “I liked feeding them the best. I used to fish with my Grandpa at his cabin in Wisconsin, so it was fun to have a project putting fish back into nature.”

Shields added she was aware of at least 10 other schools that were doing similar fish hatching projects, but none were as successfully as the Mill Creek fifth-graders.

“The state people told us we had the highest survival rate,” she said. “But that was still only about 50 percent. So, the students learned about life and death in nature.” 

For starters, the kids were taught the fish are not pets, they would not be given names and there would be no “funerals” for the ones that didn’t survive. 

After hatching and feeding the tiny brook trout for about four months, all three classes took a field trip to Willow Pond to release them into the water. 

“Believe it or not, (Willow Pond) is the busiest fishing spot in our state,” said Murray Parks and Recreation Fishing Club Instructor Patti Barton. “More people go to Strawberry (Reservoir) and other places. But in terms of the number of people fishing — compared to the size of the waterway — this is the busiest spot in Utah.” 

The teachers admit, even after all the hard work to get the 2-inch-long hatchlings to the pond, some of the students witnessed several of the fish instantly becoming meals for larger fish and ducks. 

“That was just another part of the circle of life lesson the students learned,” Shields added. “It’s hard to explain death to fifth-graders. But the kids learned so much. This project helped boost their confidence, and I know it helped them to perform better on their end of the year tests. This turned out to do so much more for them than we expected.” 

Now that the Mill Creek Elementary School fifth-grade classrooms have all of the equipment they need to hatch fish, they plan to do it again next year. 

“I don’t think we will have to request any new funding from Cargill,” Blaine Hall said. “This has been such great fun to see the kids connect with science and nature. I know my wife has also loved teaching it.” 

In the end, people who fish Murray’s Willow Pond will be the ultimate winners when they catch a fish just a little quicker than they otherwise would have, thanks to some dedicated students and their innovative teachers.