Hesitantly, an Oregon sixth grader reaches out to touch the cool, rough scales of a salmon. At another table, his friend identifies native plants while other classmates giggle over the antics of aquatic insects.
Learning is fun at the Gnat Creek Fish Hatchery, just seven miles from Georgia-Pacific's Wauna, Oregon, tissue mill on the Columbia River. But it's hard to concentrate while dodging raindrops, and the Pacific Northwest's rainy weather often put a damper on outdoor learning.
Not anymore. A $30,000 investment from GP's Wauna mill helped the hatchery cover the outdoor classroom area with a log pavilion. Before, teachers hustled to sign up for classes in the drier months of May, September and October. Now, learning can go on year round.
Gnat Creek is a unique combination. Owned by the Oregon Department of Forestry, it is a working tree farm. In addition, the Department of Fish and Wildlife operates a hatchery on the property, raising chinook salmon for release into the Pacific Ocean. The combination allows students to get a good look at the sustainability of both forestry and fish management.