On June 1 2016, IISD Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA) invited students from Dryden High School to spend a day exploring what it is we do at the famed research site, and why we do it.

The first school tour of the year was a resounding success, filled with hands-on science, teamwork, “seining” and an uncooperative motorboat. Marcus Threndyle explains further…

“That’s a Honda; she should start on the first pull!” the Grade 12 student yelled from shore after my third tug at the old outboard motor. I chuckled, along with the rest of the class, as I continued my attempts to urge the motor to life. This group of students from Dryden High School had been in camp for two hours now, and the first school tour of the year was off to a good start.


The students had arrived in the rain that was forecast to last all day, but tours begin indoors with a presentation on eutrophication, acid rain and reservoirs—key experiments from ELA’s history. By the time we moved outside for a tour of the camp, the clouds had broken, and we were now “seine-netting” under a sunny sky. Well, we would be, once I got the motor started.


A student strolled up to the dock with a look of determination.


“Nick’ll get that motor going for you,” his teacher stated confidently. “Just let him stare at it.” I’m not usually one for witchcraft, but wasn’t in a position to turn down help. Nick approached silently, his eyes locked onto the motor with a mix of perplexity and dissatisfaction. I moved to readjust the choke and give it another try.


“Wide open and let ‘er rip!” Nick encouraged. The motor roared to life, apparently motivated by his presence. I bear witness.


The famed Lake 240 was considerably more cooperative than our motor, giving us a seine net full of small perch and a northern pike! We kick-netted in search of benthic invertebrates, and rounded out our day by hiking up to the meteorological site to see the precipitation gauges in action (it had started raining again).


Field trips are an easy sell to most students, as many are eager to get to the site, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, diving right into the science. The students may not leave their field course at IISD-ELA remembering how we analyze water samples or which specific species of zooplankton we monitor. Instead, our goal is to give them an overall understanding of the unique whole-lake experimentation that goes on right in their backyard.


There is nothing quite like seeing their excitement when they first enter the site and realize that the life of a freshwater scientist at IISD-ELA is multifaceted, and that we are contributing to a vital canon of work that affects the health of our water. And, of course, that it is not all hard work. There are exciting moments involving fishing, boating on one’s favourite lake and hiking through acres of untouched forestland; all hundreds of kilometres from the nearest office tower.


Of course, working or taking a field course at IISD Experimental Lakes Area has some vital practical skills to bestow, like knowing how to climb into a pair of waders and get your hands dirty—or how to convince an outboard motor to start while there’s still sunshine.


For information on site tours or to book a field trip for the fall, contact Pauline Gerrard at pgerrard@iisd-ela.org.


You can learn more about the education opportunities at IISD Experimental Lakes Area by clicking here.