This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Children’s Water Festival, an opportunity for 5th graders to experience the Gila River. The Children’s Water Festival (CWF) has been organized by different entities over the years and the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance began coordinating in 2016. We’ve improved the format so that just one school at a time is at the river, allowing birdsong to be heard along with the facts from the instructor.
“I’m very grateful that UGWA’s support for this meaningful event allows us to reach students from the Silver City, Cobre, Lordsburg, and Deming School Districts,” states Carol Ann Fugagli, UGWA’s Education Director and organizer of the event. “Watching the faces of young people light up as they discover the texture of sycamore leaves or find aquatic macroinvertebrates never gets tiring!”
In May, over 400 5th graders celebrated the Gila River, learning and exploring riparian trees, collecting macroinvertebrates that indicate river health, distinguishing between skulls of carnivores and herbivores, and ending the day with a cool dip in the river. Harper Alsup, a 5th grader from Cliff Elementary School said, “I used to think the river was just a place to go camping and swimming but now that I see it up close, I realize that the river is the source of life for a lot of living things and it is beautiful.”
Since English is not the first language of many of the students from Deming and Columbus, UGWA worked with a program called “Youth Reaching Youth,” a group of motivated Deming High School Students who tutor younger students and help their community in other ways, too. UGWA hired seven students from this program to attend the festival to serve as interpreters and overall helpers. They received a stipend for their work and enjoyed the chance to use their bilingual skills in a beautiful setting.
As we reflect on the importance of preserving our unique and pristine land and water, John Muir sums it up well, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
Many thanks to the Lineberry Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Lands Foundation, and The Wilderness Society for their financial support.