For a decade, Summit High School offered a course for students that taught them the ecology of streams and rivers by allowing students to interact with the blue river, ultimately raising a group of rainbow trout. Although the course is no longer offered at the school, one student took it upon himself to work with his teacher to create an independent study that models the classroom on a smaller scale.
Landon Cunningham was a freshman at Summit High School when the stream ecology course held its final session. Science teacher Jami Lambrecht had worked with Trout Unlimited to launch the course in 2013, and he has taught the class in the years since. Due to the pandemic and changes to the school schedule, the course was no longer offered, but Cunningham showed an interest in trout tank maintenance and wanted to participate in something similar to the course today. disappeared today.
Cunningham, who already had a passion for fly fishing, approached Lambrecht to do an independent study, and the pair worked together to fine-tune the program, which received final approval from the school board.
Cunningham’s study was launched in the fourth quarter of the school year. He is still preparing and organizing all the equipment for the school’s wet lab where the tanks are stored. Eventually, Trout Unlimited will send the rainbow trout eggs to the school, tasking Cunningham with raising them and testing the water chemistry to make sure it’s adequate for the fish, all under the supervision of Lambrecht.
At the end of the term, the duo will release the fish into a private pond or tank. In the formal course, students would test to ensure fish were pathogen free to ensure they were safe to release into the Blue River. The tests cost $30 each, so to save on the expense of Cunningham’s study, the couple seek an isolated body of water to put the 20 to 25 fish in at the end of the school year.
Cunningham said the course developed his passion for the outdoors and it even made him think about what field he would pursue at university.
“I’ve been fly fishing my whole life. I grew up fly fishing, my dad grew up fly fishing so it’s also a passion of mine. To be able to have an outlet to continue that and continue those activities is really appealing to me,” Cunningham said.
Lambrecht, who also has a passion for river ecology and fly fishing, said the course is important for teaching students about the world around them and especially the environment of Summit County.
“It gives you a living piece of the ecosystem that you can take out and enjoy and eventually motivate yourself to maybe learn more about it so you can eventually protect it,” Lambrecht said. “It also connects you with an entity like (Colorado) Parks and Wildlife and Trout Unlimited – like the (US) Forest Service.”
Trout Unlimited has helped the class financially and continues to do so by donating trout eggs. Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate has also provided a grant for equipment, and Mountain Angler at Breckenridge is offering a small eligible scholarship to students who have completed the program to pursue conservation at university.
Greg Hardy, Silverthorne resident and vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said the organization continues to be involved in supporting the course because of the kind of impact it has on students.
“Some high school kids know a lot, and often it has to do with their family, whether their parents – one or both – are outdoors people and go out and put them in the water or teach them about the watershed. But some of them aren’t so lucky,” Hardy said. “Living at Summit gives us a great opportunity to be able to teach students about conservation and how the life cycle of a river really works.”