Around 125 school kids took a field trip on Long Lake in Naples aboard the 93-foot Songo River Queen last week for a session to learn about everything from the 1973 Shoreland Zoning Law to when the first humans appeared along these lakes. For many, it was their first time both riding the big boat and being out on Long Lake.

Thanks to Lakes Environmental Association, the kids were already very well versed in lake knowledge, having spent the academic year learning a lot about our these waters.

“We’ve been partnering with area schools for long time,” said Peter Lowell, Lakes Environmental Association executive director. “We like to get the kids outside so they can learn firsthand.”

Lakes Environmental Association paid for and led the kids on last week’s cruise. Kids went for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Between taking water samples and looking at plankton under a microscope, the kids cruised around the lake acting as a de facto Environmental Protection Agency.

Called a “Hey You” cruise, middle schoolers admonished offenders, pointing fingers and shouting at perpetrators staged along the shore who were engaged in various harmful practices that can damage water quality.

You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced 125 middle schoolers screaming “hey you” in unison. The deafening force could be a whole new type of citizen law enforcement.

The kids shrieked at wrongdoers dumping fresh loads of sand on a beach; yelled at rogues engaged in fertilizing a lakeside lawn; told off miscreants cutting bushes less than 3 feet tall; banished outlaws who had chain saws ready to fell big pines at the water’s edge; scolded scoundrels all lathered up, bathing in the lake; and decried deviants who littered and tossed cans into the water from shore.

Though some of these acts may appear somewhat innocent, throughout the school year the kids have learned that all of these actions are actually crimes against the health of our lakes.

The cruise made it all come together for kids like Hanna Merrick, a Lake Region sixth-grader. “You get to see what was actually discussed in class,” she said.

Between shouting at environmental scofflaws, the kids were instructed in informative lectures by staff from the Lakes Environmental Association on how lawn fertilizer harms water quality, and the nuts and bolts of the 1973 Shoreland Zoning Law.

Like many, Lori Cox, a sixth-grader from the town of Sebago, nabbed a fir seedling, one of several prizes awarded by Lakes Environmental Association for knowing there is at least a 100-foot setback that must be maintained when building a structure near the water.

“They’re having lots of fun,” said Chas Nicholas, a sixth-grade teacher at Lake Region Middle School. “They’re going to talk about this for the rest of the year.”

The boat stopped in a calm cove so the kids could eat their lunch in shifts. Half the kids ate while the rest milled about a half-dozen stations. Everything from analyzing water samples and plankton, to getting clarity readings with a Secchi disk — a black and white patterned disk lowered into the water. The deeper the disk can be seen, the clearer the water.

Like many, Curtis Gerrish, a Naples sixth-grader, learned that plankton is the basis of the food chain. “It looked weird under the microscope,” he said.” It was all circular and pretty fast moving.”

Through the field trip, Lakes Environmental Association presented scientific topics in accessible ways and helped implant the importance of protecting our lakes in the minds of its future generation.

John Blanchard, a sixth-grade teacher at Waterford Memorial Elementary, has been on these cruises for the past eight-plus years. “This serves as the culmination of the year,” he said. “They learned about the water cycle — evaporation, precipitation and groundwater. And we followed this watershed from where begins in Waterford to where it empties out at Portland Harbor. I think the kids have a greater understanding of how important water quality is. And getting out on the lake is great. The majority of these kids have never been on this boat before.”


Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]