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Minto, East Grand Forks Sacred Heart high schools win top awards in River Watch competition

River Watch is an innovative watershed education program available to schools and communities across the Red River Basin.

Minto River Watch Team, First Place.JPG
Minto High School's first-place River Watch team.
Contributed / Asher Kingery, International Water Institute
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GRAND FORKS – Minto (North Dakota) High School took first place, and East Grand Forks Sacred Heart High School placed second in the Judge’s Choice category during the 27th annual River Watch Forum on Wednesday, March 30, at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

Founded in 1995, River Watch is an innovative watershed education program available to schools and communities across the Red River Basin. Administered by the Fargo-based International Water Institute, River Watch offers a suite of classroom and outdoor activities designed to address water quality improvement initiatives.

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River Watch teams from participating schools across the Red River Basin competed against each other as part of an assignment to host a River Watch event in their community. Each project was judged on marketing materials, a video summary and a written report that detailed planning, hosting and evaluating their event.

Awards for the various River Watch events were presented at the forum. The River Watch Forum is a highlight of the year for participating schools, and more than 200 students and teachers from 20 different schools attended the recent forum, which was the first in-person event since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minto’s first place River Watch team created an event to educate adults in the Minto area about River Watch and the Red River Basin. The students set up an “escape room,” in which participants had to solve puzzles in each room before moving on to the next. Subjects included the Red River Watershed, River Watch, macroinvertebrates and water quality monitoring. Participants mapped out the headwaters of their watershed, used a key to identify different macroinvertebrates that live in rivers and were tasked with measuring the transparency of water using a secchi tube.

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By surveying participants before and after the escape room event, the Minto River Watch students were able to measure the effectiveness of their activities.

Sacred Heart’s River Watch team for their assignment hosted a Mini Water Festival for grades K-3 in their school. Activities included a watershed model showing how water runs off the land, a stream table showing the process of erosion and a fishing game to discuss the species of fish that live in the Red River. Young students also were taught about invasive species, mainly zebra mussels.

Sacred Heart River Watch Team, 2nd Place.JPG
East Grand Forks Sacred Heart's River Watch team.
Contributed / Asher Kingery, International Water Institute

Placing third in the Judge’s Choice category was Liberty Middle School of West Fargo.

Forum speakers

Keynote speaker for this year’s River Watch Forum was Hank Kohler of Ames, Iowa. Kohler in 1979 paddled from East Leaf Lake in Otter Tail County to Hudson Bay and in 2021 paddled from the same lake to the Gulf of Mexico. One of Kohler’s 1979 paddling partners, Dennis Weidemann, wrote a book called “This Water Goes North” about their trip to Hudson Bay.

In addition to Kohler’s keynote presentation, three breakout sessions held throughout the day featured Brad Dokken, outdoors editor of the Grand Forks Herald; Brad Durick, longtime Red River catfish guide; and Rochelle Nustad, a hydrologist for the Dakota Water Science Center, who talked about their respective jobs and the variety of ways that different careers can include interacting with water.

Other awards presented to River Watch students and teams during the forum were as follows:

  • George (Bud) Sinner River Watch Scholarship: Gabriel Enstad, Campbell-Tintah (Minnesota) High School and Allisyn Tollefson, Cavalier (North Dakota) High School..
  • Red River Watershed Board Manager’s Choice Award: Hawley (MInnesota) High School.
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