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YMCA camp teaches kids to appreciate, protect state's waters

The YMCA has developed a summer camp designed to prevent kids from taking Minnesota's water resources for granted.

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Kristina Yastrebova at a YMCA Lake Exploration Camp on Lake Minnetonka
12-year-old Kristina Yastrebova attends a YMCA Lake Exploration Camp on Lake Minnetonka on Thursday.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

A group of seven middle schoolers gathered around a picnic table on the shore of Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata Thursday. They'd spent the morning experimenting with small see-through tanks filled with pebbles and water.

Rachael Fleming, an educator from the Science Museum of Minnesota, showed the campers how the tanks can simulate water moving in lakes, wells and rainfall.

Fleming is participating in Lake Exploration Camp, a program run by the YMCA in partnership with the museum, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the city of Wayzata among others. It’s a joint effort to introduce kids to some of Minnesota's most beloved bodies of water and develop an appreciation for one of the state’s most valuable resources.

Students at YMCA Lake Exploration Camp on Lake Minnetonka
Students and staff members watch a science experiment during a YMCA Lake Exploration Camp on Lake Minnetonka on Thursday.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Fleming told them to introduce a dye into their tanks, meant to simulate pollution. The dye illustrates what could happen to lakes and wells when pollution seeps into groundwater.

"What can you as seventh and eighth graders do to protect the groundwater?” Fleming asked the group.

Campers raised their hands and talked about picking up garbage and asking their parents to buy environmentally-safe products to de-ice their sidewalks.

Earlier in the week, the campers gathered lake water samples and examined them to see how healthy and diverse Minnetonka's water organisms are.

"I learned that in a pond there can be many different living creatures and that if a lake is healthy there should be live clams and a lot of living organisms," said 12-year-old Kristina Yastrebova.

Even though Minnesota’s thousands of lakes are a point of pride in the state, 40 percent of the state’s surface waters are polluted.

So, Lake Exploration Camp isn't just about hands-on science learning. Hank Carlson from the YMCA said it's also about understanding water ecology and building a connection to one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.

"The purpose of this camp is to bring youth out here and connect them to this resource in a deeper and a stronger way. We do that through education and STEM programming. And then obviously we want camp to be fun, right? That's what camp's all about, right? So, tying in fishing, and going on the lake in canoes or other watercraft," Carlson said.

After finishing up with their ground water models, the campers pulled on life jackets. A powerboat pulled up at a nearby dock, and they climbed on board to spend the rest of the afternoon out on the lake.

This reporting is part of The Water Main from MPR News. For more on water issues around the state, visit MPRNews.org/water.

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