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Creek Chat

Kids learn about ecology and clean water at Vasona Park creekside event.

Like ducks drawn to water, the kids at first "Have a Healthy Creek" event hurried down to the edge of a sparkling , with Park Ranger Brent Biafore leading the way.

Biafore had chosen a creek site away from his planned spot near the boat dock, because of another event in the park. It turned out to be a half-hidden gem. 

Partially shaded by masses of arching branches, the gently flowing shallow water reflected the light green colors of the springtime trees. Mallard ducks and Canada geese swam by slowly, and a few came onto the creek bank about three feet away from the kids.

The birds and humans checked each other out warily and then simply went about their business. For the kids, that included wanting to try out the mini scooper nets Biafore had brought, but the ranger first had a talk with them. 

"What do we use water for on a daily basis?" Biafore asked. 

Drinking and washing were everyone's immediate answers. Someone mentioned using water for plants, and Biafore agreed, pointing out the lush trees and vegetation in the park's vast riparian area. 

"We rely on the trees for oxygen, and they rely on us to protect the environment so they can grow," he explained. "And the birds rely on the trees." 

Biafore underscored his points about the importance of clean water for people, plants and critters by telling the kids—and reminding the adults with them—that our bodies are about 80 percent water. Many people receive their tap water from groundwater, which is affected by the condition of creeks and rivers.

As a test to see the basic condition of Los Gatos Creek, Biafore placed water in a small container and covered it with a 5X magnifying lens. Although scientific purity tests weren't part of the event, the water under the lens looked relatively clear, as it did in the now-shallow creek. 

That was remarkable, because just four weeks earlier, the creek was a muddy, raging force for many days during and after the March storms. According to park ranger Richard Carlson, water shot over the top of the 30-foot-high dam at Vasona Lake, which the creek feeds. 

But nature usually settles down in this area by May, and numerous Canada geese, a year-round fixture in the park, are now nesting on the island in Vasona Lake. 

"It appears to be a healthy riparian area here, a nice happy ecosystem," Biafore said. He added that the lack of man-made debris in the creek shows people are taking care of that natural resource. 

The kids didn't catch any fish, but a couple discovered shells on the creek's bank. Biafore identified them as freshwater clams, which are native to the creeks and rivers of the Bay Area. 

Biafore has been a Santa Clara County park ranger since 2003 and has worked at Vasona Park since November 2010. He suggested having the healthy creek event April 30 and also chose the six creative activity sheets he gave the kids to encourage them to use their five senses when learning about nature.

By the end of the event, several kids were using crayons to draw or write about the ecosystem around them. 

The participants included the children of area residents Lisa Farley, Watiri Kamau-Kelley and Katy Mozafar, who had discovered the free event on local websites.

As the hour ended, they and their kids were discussing Biafore's "Insect Investigators," his creekside event planned for Saturday, with him. If there's enough interest, Biafore said he would like to add an additional "healthy creek" walk during the warmer months this year. 

For information about interpretive outdoor events for kids ages 5 and up, visit the Santa Clara County Parks Spring Summer 2011 Play Here calendar or call 408-356-2729. 

About this column: Each week Susan Wiedmann will write about nature in Los Gatos and how people relate to it in different ways. Susan is a longtime freelance writer and photographer with a passion for capturing wildlife through her camera's lens. Please leave any comments about this article at the bottom of this page. You can contact Susan about possible topics at Susan@UpCloseWithMotherNature.com or at UpCloseWithMotherNature.com.

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