Banner season for the Marsh Madness trailer

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After a year without County Fairs and other places to educate the public about water conservation and quality, the Water Rocks! and the Iowa Learning Farms teams at Iowa State University were eager to get out and meet people across Iowa last summer. And, they had the newest addition to Conservation Station’s fleet of educational trailers to draw crowds.

The Marsh Madness Conservation Station, dedicated in May 2021 with a focus on Iowa’s wetlands and their relationship to agriculture, water quality and biodiversity, was a featured attraction at many stops .

Marsh Madness features original artwork depicting Iowa landscapes, ambient swamp sounds, a range of three-dimensional exhibits of Iowa’s flora and fauna, and three models of wetlands that show how water moves through and through the common landscapes of Iowa.

“We are very happy that we not only were able to start working with audiences again last summer, but we also had a new platform that garnered attention with every appearance,” said Jacqueline Comito, director of ‘Iowa Learning Farms. “Marsh Madness made 28 stops this summer and we had over 3,000 visitors. The trailer seems to have something for everyone, with young visitors drawn to the animals and models, while adults were intrigued by the history of the water quality and the different landscape models of the areas. wet.

Wetland models at work

Kay Stefanik, deputy director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at ISU, helped design and create the wetland models for the trailer. Three-dimensional models of wetland ecosystems incorporate modeled vegetation that includes row crops; grassland plants; submerged aquatic vegetation and emergent vegetation at the edge of water bodies; and landscapes to scale, to show how water flows through and through models, as in the real world.

DEMONSTRATION AREA: Calaysa Mora (left) and Nicole Haverback participated in the demonstration of the treatment wetland model in the conservation station dedicated to wetland education.

The Prairie Pothole model (a common wetland in Iowa) includes simulated precipitation that hits the ground and flows through vegetation to reach the wetland. The Oxbow model simulates a versatile oxbow that is filled by the flooding of a river, as well as receiving water from the tiles. The third model is a treatment wetland, an artificial wetland that typically sits between agricultural fields and streams, designed specifically to improve water quality.

“Models really grab the attention of visitors and act as conversation starters when we attend events,” says Stefanik. “A farmer told me about his farm and how he converted part of an existing pond to a wetland to help filter nutrients; but after seeing our models he was seriously considering expanding his wetlands.

Visitors are encouraged to observe the different models and ask questions of staff to learn the basics of different wetland functions and practices, or how wetlands can apply to a particular farm or landscape.

Inside the Marsh Madness trailer, visitors can experience total sensory immersion in Iowa’s wetland ecosystems. The combination of audio and video elements and original artwork transports visitors to the heart of a wetland, while life-size, tactile plant and animal models encourage visitors to further explore the incredible diversity of the areas. wetlands of Iowa.

“A particularly rewarding part of hanging out with audiences is the connection young people make between a Water Rocks presentation at their school – in person or virtually – and the conservation stations at a county fair or farmer’s market.” , comments Comito. “It’s nice to see this reinforcement of our message, and often to see young people bring their parents and grandparents to the trailer and share what they learned from Water Rocks in school.”

To have an impact

Water Rocks principal Ann Staudt echoed the sentiment, telling the story of a fourth-grader from Northstar Elementary in Knoxville, Iowa, who was very excited about the models and the trailer. “After this young man listened to our team members talk about the different landscapes and models a few times at the Marion County Fair, he actually started to help teach others about the different creatures found inside. trailer. At the end of the day he says, “I just need a Water Rocks t-shirt to be like all of you!” It’s very gratifying to see such an impact on even a child, and it reinforces our commitment to the mission of educating young people in Iowa about their environment.

Several appearances drew over 250 visitors in the span of a few hours each, and the Clear Lake Farmers Market topped 350.

Andrea Evelsizer, co-chair of the Clear Lake Farmers Market, notes that they always try to incorporate youth activities during the market to help encourage young people to attend and learn about the market and local agriculture. “Helping our young people learn about the environment is one of our goals, and the Conservation Station is a great way to inspire market visitors to learn,” Evelsizer said. “Our team reported that the conservation station and its staff provided a great experience with engaging and hands-on activities, and the large trailer garnered a lot of attention. We are already planning to bring the conservation station back next year. “

“The feedback from the event organizers has been very positive, and the enthusiasm and interest of the visitors has been a great reinforcement as we provide useful and necessary content and information,” Comito continues. “Everywhere we went, the trailer was appreciated and well received. “

Elizabeth Sturgill, secretary of the Monona County Fair, said they had had the conservation station trailers for several years and would continue to collect them. “People really love to visit the trailers and they are a great way to view and learn more about important topics,” says Sturgill. “When I had the opportunity to walk near the Wetlands Caravan, I saw many visitors in awe of what they were seeing and doing. “

With the beautiful season behind them, outreach teams continue to visit schools and showcase the Marsh Madness trailer at field days and other educational events targeting farmers and landowners.

“This summer has been a big reboot for our public appearances, and we look forward to using our Conservation Station trailers to continue to bring scientific and research-based information on water quality, natural resources, biodiversity. and conservation for Iowans of all ages and backgrounds. , concludes Comito.

To learn more about awareness events and conservation station appearances in your area, visit waterrocks.org/calendar.

Stevenson is a visual awareness specialist and conservation educator with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks. Water Rocks is Iowa’s unique and award-winning water education program for youth.


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