Osakis students study lake ecology at Battle Point Park on Lake Osakis

Dozens of seventh-grade students gathered at Battle Point Park to study Lake Osakis' ecology on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

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A group of Osakis seventh-graders peer down into Lake Osakis as they lower a white disk into its depths to determine the lake's clarity.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

OSAKIS — Seventh-grade students from Osakis Public School studied lake ecology at Battle Point Park on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Staff from Osakis Public School and members of the Sauk River Water District and Todd County Soil and Water District put on a series of events to teach the students about Lake Osakis' ecology and the importance of water conservation.

Members from Let's Go Fishing were supposed to take the students out on a pontoon, but high winds created choppy water and unsafe boating conditions.

A bucket of lanyards attached to name cards represents either a type of bug or pollution found in lakes. Each student grabbed a card for a game to show how different bugs are affected by pollution.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

“Right now we're studying ecology in class,” said Osakis Science Teacher, Lee Vannyhuis. “It (the activities) helps students kind of make a connection with their local environment or ecosystem. When students have a better sense of place, when it's not just a concept in a book, they can connect."

Josh Votruba, a resource conservation technician for Todd County Soil and Water Conservation District, showed the students how Todd County has restored the shoreline by planting native plants.


Votruba said it is good to build the students’ interest in water conservation at an early age in hopes of them continuing the work when looking for career paths.

Adam Lee, left, and Kashius Montalvo separate collected lake matter into an ice tray to identify bug life using a diagram.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Vannyhuis broke the students into two groups for his game called "buffer blitz" to teach them about the importance of buffers stopping water runoff. Buffer zones benefit aquatic ecosystems by providing food, shelter and nesting sites for fish and wildlife, controlling shoreline erosion, and protecting water quality by intercepting nutrients and stabilizing lake bottom sediment.

The game works by having one of the student groups act as water molecules with the goal of getting into the lake and the other group acting as plant life water buffers with the goal of stopping the molecules. The molecule group runs towards the lake while the buffer group tags as many of the molecules as they can.

“It's just a fun activity to let him know the importance of vegetation near shorelines,” said Vannyhuis.

Osakis students representing lake bugs ready themselves to hop, skip and run past a group of students representing harmful pollution without getting tagged.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Similar to Vannyhuis' game, Adam Hjelm with the Sauk River Watershed district also split the students into two groups to show how some bugs in the lake are affected by pollution.

From left, Tim Spoden, Cooper Dirkes, Jayden Silva, and Kellen George test Lake Osakis' phosphorus, dissolved oxygen and ph levels.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"The better the water quality, the more diversity, the more bugs we'll have," said Hjelm.

The students representing the bug group had to run past the pollution
group without getting tagged. Some of the students that represent bugs, however, were limited in how they could move. Some could run while others could only hop or skip. Hjelm says, the limited movement represented bugs that are more sensitive to pollution and are more likely to die off.

Before the game, students collected samples from the lake and attempted to identify different bug life using a spoon, an ice tray and a diagram of the different bugs usually found in the lake.


Students lower a white disk into Lake Osakis to determine the depth of visibility.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Under the guidance of Osakis’ High School Science Teacher, Emily Wolf, students determined the clarity of the lake with white disks attached to strings that were lowered into the water. The students took notes on how far down the disk went before they lost sight of it. They also tested the phosphorus, dissolved oxygen and ph levels in collected samples from Lake Osakis to determine the water quality.

Emily Wolf, center, discusses with a group of students about their findings when determining the ph, dissolved oxygen and phosphorus levels in Lake Osakis' water.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

“We want to take a look at how the ecosystem behaves in terms of living and nonliving components,” said Wolf. “(At Battle Point Park) we're just trying to understand how we fit into that ecosystem. We'll talk about how development can affect that ecosystem and how it will change how this area could look if we were to change it.”

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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