Aqua Chautauqua

By Karen Terry, Extension Educator

September 2017

What do you call a combination of more than 20 learning stations with activities and demonstrations related to water resources, a stage line-up of presentations ranging from music to experts speaking about new water-centric research, and a  series of walking tours, all set in an outdoor setting along a beautiful river? Aqua Chautauqua!

Aqua Chautauqua

Fergus Falls Mayor, Ben Schierer, addressing a group of attendees

The first Aqua Chautauqua was held in Fergus Falls on Saturday, August 12 along the Riverwalk along the Otter Tail River. It was modeled after chautauquas of days gone by: combining education with history, arts, and culture. Designed to educate adults as well as children about natural resource issues in the Otter Tail River Watershed, the event covered topics such as how to monitor for aquatic invasive species, water-friendly lawn care, shoreline property management, fish and mussels of the river, stormwater runoff, healthy soils, pollinators, water quality sampling, harmful algae blooms and more. The focus was on the entire Otter Tail River Watershed, which includes the communities of Detroit Lakes, Pelican Rapids, New York Mills, Perham, Frazee, Battle Lake, Underwood, Foxhome, and Fergus Falls. In addition to science education, the event was designed to encourage and promote civic engagement within the community so that citizens can become more involved in the decision making process on water resources issues.

One of the learning stations at Aqua Chautauqua, staffed by West Otter Tail County 4-H, was the River of Dreams project. Anyone stopping by was encouraged to select a 14” cedar canoe and decorate it however they chose, and then the canoes were launched into the Otter Tail River. Each canoe has a unique identification number on it, as well as a note asking that whomever might find the canoe downstream please report it on the River of Dreams website, then return it to the river to continue on its journey across the Canadian border and toward the Hudson Bay. People who decorated a canoe can track their canoe on the website to see if anyone has reported it. Learn more about River of Dreams.

Aqua Chautauqua

Big Stone County 4-H Robotics Team at Aqua Chautauqua

4-H’ers from Big Stone County were also at the Aqua Chautauqua, demonstrating their aquatic robotics. The team designed and built remote controlled robots that go out into the lake, below the surface of the water. The robots have lights and cameras, allowing the students to search for and identify aquatic invasive species in a lake or river. In addition to doing demonstrations at their learning station, the 4-H’ers also gave a presentation on the stage, demonstrating their skills in communication along with their knowledge of robotics and aquatic invasive species.

Another popular learning station was the “Tell Us Your Watershed Story” video booth, where participants took a seat in the easy chair and told a story about their special place or event in the watershed. Watch for these videos to show up on Extension Water Resources Team’s website and their Facebook page.

This Aqua Chautauqua was a pilot project which will be evaluated and then replicated (with modifications based on evaluation results) in one or two other communities in 2018 and beyond. Anyone interested in learning more about the Aqua Chautauqua may contact Extension Educator Karen Terry at, or 218-770-9301. 

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