Mossom Creek is no Niagara Falls.
For the most part, you can’t get close to it because of the thick forest and underbrush that surounds it and the fact that it cuts through a steep ravine in Port Moody.
Its lower reaches trickle through private property and you need special permission to get close.
So why has Mossom Creek become one of the most highly-valued waterways in the Tri-Cities?
The answer to that lies in 40 years of hard work that founders Rod MacVicar and Ruth Foster put into educating young people about the importance of salmon and the environment, using Mossom Creek and its underwater denizens as touch stones.
Through the efforts of these retired biology teachers supported by volunteers including school children, thousands of chum and coho salmon have been raised in a hatchery next to the creek, re-establishing its vitality.
As well, an education centre has been built and hundreds of school kids, teachers and community members have learned about the importance of salmon to a healthy environment.
The evidence of their success is in the annual return of salmon in the once-depleted creek and the construction of a new education centre and hatchery with $1.2 million in donated cash, materials and services after the original building burned down in 2013.
But Cleone Todgham, program coordinator for the Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre, says MacVicar and Foster should also be acknowledged as pioneers in outdoor experience education that today’s teachers are trying to provide to meet the goals of B.C.’s revised school curriculum.
“When they started they wanted to take the kids out of the classroom and do hands-on teaching and they wanted the kids to help with the hatchery,” said Todgham, who was hired last spring with funds from a BC Hydro grant to provide education programs.
Todgham said Mossom school programs are continuing to evolve, and can be tweaked to meet a wide range of education needs from excitable preschoolers to seasoned administrators, but the curriculum still follows MacVicar and Foster’s mantra that “you only care about what you know.”
For example, on a recent field trip to the hatchery, Pleasantside elementary students met with an experienced forester and tramped through the woods to identify plants and trees and made artistic leaf rubbings.
The students also talked about the importance of looking after the woods and why people need to care about trees.
“It’s very interesting because it’s all nature,” said Paige Whitworth, a Grade 4 student. “You have to protect it, like no littering.”
She was among the 30 Pleasantside Grade 4/5 students who will visit Mossom seven times for a wide-ranging curriculum that include science and language arts and topics as varied as insects, salmon and wildlife.
Teacher Stephanie Perko said her students enjoy the experience of getting out of the classroom and learning how to be scientists, which means coming up with interesting questions, being observant and making good notes.
“They get to do what real scientists do,” said Perko.
Mike Baldus, whose Heritage Woods Science 11 co-op students hiked to Mossom last spring for an overnight field trip that included activities such as dissecting a salmon and counting insects, says having an outdoor classroom close at hand is like winning the lottery for a teacher.
“It’s a 45-minute hike and we get to go through forests to get there. At the end, we have this beautiful creek with this great facility,” said Baldus, whose students will be collecting salmon eggs during an egg take to support the hatchery.
A lot of water has trickled down the creek since 1976, when Foster and MacVicar started a hatchery program and a salmon club at Centennial secondary in Coquitlam. In the intervening years, they developed courses that students could take for high school credit and inspired generations of young people, including several who are current School District 43 teachers.
When the program began, Foster recalls, it was viewed by herself and MacVicar, and later fellow teacher Jim Mattson, as a practical way to teach students about the environment and bring salmon back to the creek.
“We never had much of a vision, we were just too busy,” Foster recalled.
But she’s pleased that B.C.’s education system has finally caught up with the need to provide hands-on opportunities for young people to learn about and interpret their world. “We find the questions are much richer when they [the students] are in the environment,” Foster said, recalling how the school hatchery program started out as a simple incubator box in the creek beside Ioco Road.
The long-time educator said the Centennial students who got involved in the salmon club also need to be acknowledged for their dedication. In the early days, there were no automatic feeders for the fish, and students had to organize five feedings a day and arrange for transportation to the PoMo hatchery from Coquitlam.
In those days a program like the one at Mossom was a novelty, much to be praised, but still different from the traditional stand-and-deliver model of teaching that was so entrenched for generations.
But Foster is grateful for the opportunity to be able to pass on her own enthusiasm for protecting salmon so the important species still has a place to come back to each fall.
“Because one of our great long-term objectives is developing a sense of place for students and young people so they feel a kinship and caring for a place, our watershed. It has a carry over effect other parts of their life — not only caring for Mossom but understanding through this particular watershed the need for stewardship and caring for all these coastal streams.”
Teachers can find out how Mossom Creek Hatchery can assist them with environmental experiences that support curriculum goals for every grade level and in subjects ranging from literacy, numeracy, social studies, science, creative writing to art. The program takes place on Friday, Oct. 21, a professional-development day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Registration is limited, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, Oct. 19, Hoy Scott Creek, the challenge of an urban hatchery.