Six Community Organizations that Support Learning on the River

Six Community-Based Resources Support Learning on the River

Our river ecosystems are about more than just water – they about thousands of species of plants and animals, fascinating natural history, and the connections between humans and their surroundings. By utilizing resources made available by a handful of local community-based organizations and events, families can learn about and connect with our local landscape.

The Westfield and Connecticut River are ecosystems made up of beautiful landscapes and filled with fascinating natural history, home to a great many creatures of all shapes and sizes. By utilizing resources offered by community organizations and plugging into local networks, families can access the many community-based learning opportunities that our local habitat affords us. From species identification to Native American culture, the our rivers are filled with opportunities to engage in community-based education… Read the rest of this entry »

HFVS Rivers, Critters and Pirate Misfit Episode with Guest DJs, Funkinships (Radio Show/Podcast)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

Rivers, Critters and Pirate Misfit Episode
with Guest DJs, Funkinships

LISTEN TO PODCAST:

During this segment an unlikely band of musical misfits known as Funkinships, share some of their favorite songs about the river that brought them together. Learn about the critters that make the water a magical place and why we need to keep the rivers clean for them. —www.funkinships.com

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
October 8th & 9th, 2016
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: From Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert (Clearwater Concert) at Madison Square Garden in 2009. Featuring: Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Steve Earle, Toshi Reagon, Warren Haynes, and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger.

 Archived Podcasts Radio  Facebook Twitter

LISTEN TO PODCAST:

PLAYLIST

  • Funkinships – “Sea Legs” [Post Folk Absurdist]
  • Shel Silverstien – “Captain Hook” [Where The Sidewalk Ends]
  • Pete Seeger and Ed Renehan – “The Old Ben Franklin and the Sloop Sally B”[Fifty Sail on Newburgh Bay]
  • Funkinships – “The Shad and The Eel”[Post Folk Absurdist]
  • Make and Clancy – “A Place in the Choir” [The Makem and Clancey Collection]
  • Kermit the Frog – “Rainbow Connection” [The Muppet Movie Original Soundtrack]
  • Lyle Lovett – “If I had a Boat” [Pontiac]
  • Funkinships – “Left Foot, Right Foot”[Post Folk Absurdist]
  • Sesame Street – “Alligator King” [The Count Counts: Vol. 1]
  • Pete Seeger – “Sailing Down my Golden River” [Pete]
  • Funkinships – “If You Cant Sing Well Sing Loud”[Post Folk Absurdist]
  • Derek McGee – “The Donkey Of Violet Hill”
  • John Hartford – “Turn Your Radio On” [Steam Powered Aero Plane]
  • Funkinships – “The Great Whale Ball”[Post Folk Absurdist]

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Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: River Walks & Nature Centers

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: June Segment
Nature-Based Learning through River Walks & Nature Centers

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, June 20, 2016. This month Sienna and Lauren talked about intergenerational ways to engage in natural resources to support interests and education, including River Walks and Nature Centers:

Click here to view video.

Learn more about River Walks and Nature Centers in Western MA:


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be July 18th, 2016!

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Urban And Rural River Walks and Trails Highlight Natural and Human History

Urban And Rural River Walks & Trails Highlight Natural and Human History

Housatonic River in Great Barrington, MA.

Western Massachusetts’ landscape is filled with rivers. They run like veins between our ancient hills, and give life to human and non-human communities alike as they flow constantly onward. The warm months of the year are the best time to engage in experiential learning about local rivers, a task made more inviting through a handful of riverwalks and river-following paths found locally. Through explorations of a variety of local rivers, families can explore local ecology, connect with local history, and deepen their sense of place. In particular, comparisons of urban rivers and rural rivers can illuminate the ways in which humans past and present have depended upon our rivers.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Art of Clean Water: A Family Celebration

The Art of Clean Water: A Family Celebration

What do storm drains have in common with art, watersheds, and poetry? They’ll all be a part of The Art of Clean Water celebration put on by Enchanted Circle Theater and their community partners on Saturday, November 8th from 10am-11:30am at the Holyoke Public Library! The celebration will feature an unveiling of new artwork inspired by Holyoke students on several of the storm drains in downtown Holyoke. The event will be focused on education and advocacy around water for youth and local families and will have activities and opportunities to learn for the whole family.

Bring your children to investigate microscopic critters with the Hitchcock Center, create trash art and poetry with the Connecticut River Watershed Council, and learn about rain gardens with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission… to name just a few highlights! Read the rest of this entry »

Wild & Scenic Saturdays Offer Experiential Learning Along the Westfield River

Wild and Scenic Saturdays on the Westfield River
April through October, 2014

Click to view larger image.

Wild and Scenic Saturdays cover a wide range of topics and include activities that cater to families with children of all ages. Additionally, the learning embedded in each and every one of the events will help children not only to better understand the river ecosystem, but will allow them to connect the things that they experience in the watershed to concepts that they’ve learned and home and school.

For over twenty years, the Westfield River has been distinguished as a National Wild and Scenic River. The river and its watershed provide critical habitat for a great many plant and animal species (rare ones included!), serve as a source of clean drinking water for humans, and offer us a place to commune with nature and enjoy activities like kayaking, fishing, and hiking.  Treat yourself each month to Kurt’s column, The Ripple: Stories About Western MA Rivers. This month he features the Westfield River in his post, “The Cure for All Things Pavement.”

During the coming months, the Westfield River Committee is offering a series of Saturday workshops, work days, guided explorations, and other events in order to engage the community in a process of learning about and how to care for the river and its watershed. The Wild and Scenic Saturdays offer a mix of educational activities, opportunities to engage in community service, and adventures into the watershed’s fascinating wilderness. Read the rest of this entry »

Call to Artists: Travel the Watershed

Westfield River Wild & Scenic Call for Hilltown Artists

Michele Beemer of Heartwood and volunteers have been working away in the beautiful Washington, MA shop, designing and building watershed suit cases. (Submitted photo)

The Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee invites local artists of all ages to paint wooden suitcases that will “Travel the Watershed” this summer!

“Many artists choose to live in the Hilltowns because of the inspiring landscape and the pristine river that runs through it,” writes the Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee. “The idea for a call to artists is to invite local artists to paint six handcrafted wooden suitcases that will ‘Travel the Watershed,’ inspiring others to soak up the beauty and protect the watershed.”

These suitcases will be on exhibit as works of art throughout the summer as display cases with information about Westfield River Wild & Scenic.  Local artists of all ages are invited to apply by midnight, March 1st, 2013… a great opportunity for youth artists to integrate art with environmental studies!

Selected Artists will be announced at the Westfield River Watershed Symposium held at Westfield University on March 23rd, 2013.  A $500 honorarium will be given to each of the selected artists and their work will be shown throughout the summer as the cases “Travel the Watershed.”

“We are looking for local artists of all ages, four of the selected artist must have an address in one of the ten towns with Wild & Scenic designation,” writes Wild & Scenic.  Towns include Becket, Chester, Chesterfield, Cummington, Huntington, Middlefield, Savoy, Washington, Windsor, and Worthington. To apply visit: becketartscenter.org.

Westfield River Wild & Scenic advisory committee serves to preserve, protect and enhance the special qualities and outstanding resources of the Westfield River Watershed in concert with local communities. Find out more at westfieldriverwildscenic.org.

Citizen Scientists Discover Effects of Hurricane Irene on Local River Ecology

As You’d Expect, Hurricane Irene Drastically Altered Local River Ecology

Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA writes:

The past Wednesday afternoon, Biocitizen teamed up with Hilltown Families to do our annual rapid biotic assessment of the Westfield River downstream of the Route 143 bridge in West Chesterfield, MA. Thank you volunteer citizen scientists!

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Before we began, our hosts Sienna, Jim and Persephone described how scarily high the river rose during Hurricane Irene. Not only did beautiful farmland across the river crumble—old barn and antique garbage dump included—into the torrent; but they also heard giant boulders rolling, bumping, crashing below the surface. In fact, they could feel the vibrations of the boulders in the foundation of their house (Face it amigos; we’re all on jello.).

A first view revealed just how drastic the re-ordering of the river, and riparian corridor, was. Tree branches high on the bank held fist-sized clumps of leaves and debris, proof the flood crested around 15 feet above its present level, which is itself abnormally high. Down at the river, Persephone (9yo)—and Rowan (9yo), Owen (8yo) and Cyril (8y0)—showed me where her fort used to be (on a sedimentary sand bank). Then we saw all the flotsam she’s collecting to build a new one, on higher ground. I was relieved to see our sampling area was basically intact, and marveled with grim fascination at the look of the whole river course, which appears to have been bulldozed.

We did 6 invertebrate collections, 2 each at 3 sites that are within 20-30 feet of each other. Our first sampling shocked us, because we couldn’t find a single invertebrate; last year, each sample teemed with writhing, boisterous bugs. Below are RBA data sheets for 2011 and 2010 for your comparison. Look at the top row of each to get the basic idea: we didn’t find any large stoneflies this year, only tiny ones. (“The meek shall inherit the earth”…?) As we might expect, we found plenty of worms that build cases and glue themselves to large stones.

So: it was a “bad’ year, if we consider “good” to be finding lots of big juicy stoneflies. But for the purposes of cold-hearted science, the drastic alteration of the riverbed and reduction of the number of bugs is “great” because the bug population will definitely rebound (“no empty places in nature”). The biotic resurgence will be cyclical, though, and might take a year or more. The benthic invertebrates we collect live their short adult life next spring and summer (some live under water for more than one year); the reproductive cycle takes at least a year. There will probably be a lot of hungry trout next summer and perhaps less osprey 2 years from now, as a result.

We look forward to next year’s RBA with anticipation—it will show us how the river is a superorganism whose health changes in response to climatic influences.

And we are pleased to report that, notwithstanding the trauma it has endured, the Westfield @ Rt 143 is a river of “excellent quality” water!

Families as Biocitizens on the Westfield River

Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA writes:

Identifying a sample of benthic macro invertebrates (water bugs) taken from the Westfield River in West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

How many times have you looked at a river thinking, how beautiful—and pulled out your camera to capture the swells of whitewater, a striking blue heron, or blazing maple tree in the autumn overhanging its banks?

A river is not just beautiful, though; it’s alive, and those who witness this life, this bios, never look at or appreciate a river the same way again. Based out of Westhampton, MA, the Biocitizen School has been training volunteers to see and understand the bios that a river is, by teaching them how to do Rapid Bioassessments. We net the benthic macro invertebrates (underwater bugs) and, by inventorying them, we can quickly assess how alive the river is.

Kurt helps kids sort through a sample that included stonefly nymphs. Stoneflies give an abundance of food to trout, feeding the Bald Eagles on the river. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Stonefly nymphs are a bug we want to catch. They are a primary food source for brook trout and, like trout, require clear, clean, cold oxygen-rich water. If there is too much nitrogen or potassium (from fertilizer run off) in the water, algae will bloom and suck the oxygen out of the river. You won’t find many stonefly nymphs—and therefore trout.

By doing a Rapid Bioassessment, you can monitor a river that is dear to you, year after year, to ensure that it’s healthy—and stays that way. Once you have been trained (this year), you can conduct the assessment yourself (next year); Biocitizen collects and sends your bug inventory to DEP, where it is checked and logged, becoming part of the public historical record. Such records are invaluable for scientific research and land-use decision-making.

Families inventoried their samples, giving proof that the oxygen-rich water was of exceptional quality! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

I had the pleasure of training a few families on the Westfield river this past weekend, just downstream from the RT 143 bridge in West Chesterfield, MA. One of my favorite moments occurred at the end, after we had identified our last worm species and had the proof we needed to judge the water of “exceptional quality.” “We have bald eagles on the Westfield,” I was told; “They fly up and down the river: must have a five foot wingspans, seem almost as big as a person!” Yes. All of us lucky families have big beautiful eagles living near us. Because the water is oxygen rich, there’s an abundance of stoneflies, which gives us an abundance of trout which the eagles find yummy: enough fish so they can nest and raise their families here too!

Find out more about Biocitizens and how your family can get involved with Rapid Bioassessment, visit www.biocitizen.org.

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