Treasures of Lake Erie

Discovering hidden treasures on the Great Lakes is what drew 16 educators to the Lake Erie Exploration Workshop (July 18-24, 2009). What we left with was so much more!

COSEE brought classroom and informal educators from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin together to bond over their enthusiasm for science treasures in the Great Lakes, and discover ways we can all work together to improve freshwater literacy among our audiences.

Our 7-day treasure hunt began at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie, Pennsylvania where we got to know each other and meet our instructors. We didn’t waste any time getting into the main focus of our week’s work – Exploring Lake Erie through first hand field experiences and sharing the experiences of working scientists.

Our time at Presque Isle involved more than just kayaking – investigating E.coli levels in our drinking water with Steve Mauro, meeting several turtle species with Jeanette Schnars, discussing invasive species, contemplating the impact of personal products on our water supply, and even watching the impressive film, “Mysteries of the Great Lakes”. For most of us, this would have been enough science discovery to build an entire curriculum…but we had 5 days of treasure hunting to do!

As we worked our way west, we stopped to explore coastal erosion in Painesville Township with Frank Lichtkoppler. It was amazing to see both first hand and photographic evidence that the shores along this part of the lake are rapidly receding. So much so, that steel bulkheads, groins, and break walls have been installed to change water movement and slow this process down.

The last stop before heading to the Stone Lab: Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve. Visiting the only U.S. freshwater estuary reserve was a unique opportunity – even more unique was the fact that when we visited, the estuary was closed off from the lake. Walking the beach covered in garnet particles, we realized that every inch of Lake Erie is host to immeasurable treasures, and we couldn’t wait to see more.

Arriving at Stone Lab felt like discovering Lake Erie for the first time. We had all of the tools we needed at our fingertips, - including field experts to lead the way. Our guest scientists helped us discover all of the places to look for treasure, and share first-hand some of the factors affecting the shallowest of the Great Lakes: pollutants, biodiversity, industry, temperature, geology, weather, and invasive species to name a few. We also found many new treasures that have had positive impacts on the lake, and our guest scientists brought to life just how exciting these are.

In addition to all of the science discovery, we also had science fun! Hunting for fossils, singing along to Great Lakes music, snorkeling over two Lake Erie shipwrecks, trawling for plankton, fish and invertebrates, and climbing to the top of Perry’s Monument were some of the ways we decompressed during long days of learning.

By the last day, we were ready to show off to our fellow treasure hunters, everything we planned to take back to our audiences. It was a time to reflect, say our goodbyes and shower our thanks to the instructors, guest scientists and peers for an unbelievable week.

We were grateful for the treasures, the knowledge, and the camaraderie we collected along the way, and for me, “X” will always mark the spots along Lake Erie as the best places to hunt for hidden treasures.

Even the rain couldn't keep the explorers inside.