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The Children’s Water Festival is a unique educational event that allows the 5th graders of Grant, Hidalgo and Luna Counties to visit and explore the Gila River and learn about the ecology of the watershed.

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The Upper Gila Watershed Alliance (UGWA) collaborates with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help students make lasting connections with the riparian habitat and its plants and animals. Given this opportunity, students learn to love the river and, as a result, want to protect it. Despite the river’s proximity to Silver City, every year we find students who have never been to the Gila River. The festival brings both fun and educational experiences to the students and the families in our community.

An eco-camp, hosted by the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance (UGWA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), was attended by seventeen high school students from Aldo Leopold Charter School and Silver and Cliff High Schools. The students engaged in educational activities along the banks of the Gila River.

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Because young people have inherited a planet significantly different from that of past generations, they will need new proficiencies to navigate this changed future. To assist them in this changing world, the eco-camp was designed to reconnect young people with the natural world through a variety of fun, place-based activities, including primitive skills training and an introduction to regional indigenous cultures.

Camp was held daily from 8:00am-4:00 pm. Students had several opportunities to hike up the Gila River (a first for many of them), while instructors taught them about riparian vegetation, and resident birds and other animals. Participants learned a wide variety of techniques, such as how to create fire by friction by safely making a coal, and the art of using local plants, such as yucca, to create a basket that they were able to take home. We explored the art of opening our senses while quietly walking up the river looking for animal tracks. Instructors explained river health in terms of how the chemical composition of water affects the abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrates. Students used kick nets, hand nets, and microscopes to look closely at these unusual creatures. We visited an active archaeological dig site, learned about the indigenous peoples who came before us, their lifestyles, and the regional climate during that time period.
We explored personal belief systems and confirmation biases, discussed the science of our changing climate, how it will affect our bioregion, and how to mitigate for these changes.

Nutritious meals and snacks were served while students had time to foster peer relationships. For students wishing to engage in activism beyond camp, we identified several meaningful actions they can take.

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