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Below The Surface

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Makings of a Beautiful Friendship

As the AmeriCorps member here at ECHO I have the privilege of working with the preschool science play program in partnership with the YMCA.  Part of my responsibility is to assist the YMCA facilitator by interacting with the caretakers as well as encourage the little ones to partake of the various learning play stations. This is part of the Early Learning Readiness program (ELR) that began in January here at ECHO.

Children, teens and young adults are a lively, engaging and "dramatic" bunch and they always make my days interesting. It's fun to assist them in channeling their natural energies into programs and projects that can help them grow personally, creatively, socially and intellectually.

From left to right Agoth, little brother Passy,
Older brother Kennedy and Johaly. Agoth and Johaly
participated in the Improvise Me workshop.
From this idea a new budding relationship between North End Studios and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center has emerged. Together we've created a program for children that would allow them to deliver a message of stewardship and environmental caring through various dramatic presentations.

The first workshop, Improvise me, was a collaboration of theatrical expression intertwined with the participant’s natural imagination that resulted in the actors becoming the story line while the popular Dr. Seuss story, “ Oh The Places You’ll Go “ was narrated. The children learned about team work and character building. They also learned about the transition of a story line and the importance of conveying a meaningful story to their audience. From an artist point of view, showing the youth how to bring their natural talent alive was challenging but a wonderful experience.

You can check out a glimpse of their performance here:

Watching the wide grins appear on their faces as they came up with something clever to do and seeing them enjoy working together as a team was priceless.

We are now working on our second workshop, Puppetry and the Environment, which teaches the importance of being responsible stewards of not only Lake Champlain but also places outside of our region that may get neglected or taken for granted. During this program the children will enjoy a field trip to ECHO to learn more about the Lake and the things they can do that will have positive impact on the health of the Lake Champlain Basin. At ECHO we call this the "one drop" concept, where one decision or action can create ripples of positive results. The students will use what they have learned at ECHO for the basis of their puppet creations and story line.

Workshop II, Puppetry and the Environment is a free 6-week workshop that will be held at North End Studios Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-5 pm Starting April 7th 2014 through May 14, 2014. The workshop will culminate in a public performance by the students at ECHO on May 15, 2014.

Teaching children at a very young age, about the importance of taking care of our world not only instills
in them a sense of pride for where they live but it encourages them to educate others. It is important to create life-long learners and educators about our beautiful region and the earlier we can impart this knowledge and enthusiasm, the better off we will all be.

Here is ECHO's full "One Drop" message: 
All it takes is one drop to change our world
To make a difference
To create a ripple that moves and rolls and merges with other ripples
A perpetual motion of change and evolution
One building on the other, one dependent upon the other
All starting with one drop… 
To change an action
Change direction
Change a mind.

Rebuilding a watershed table

Maintaining a watershed is a challenge whether you're talking about the Lake Champlain watershed or the watershed table play table on the top floor of ECHO.

A stripped down watershed table
Every few years, ECHO's Facilities Department staff drain down the watershed table, dry it out and reseal it with resin to ensure the longevity of the table and to return it to full operation for our guests to enjoy.

Every so often, that process goes off the deep end and we have to sand it all the way down to the fiberglass form within the table. This helps us to basically start from scratch to build a strong new form for the watershed. The table is given time to dry out and then resin is applied repeatedly to build a beautiful new watertight watershed for our guests to play in!
Components of the watershed table awaiting
additional resin treatments

This year's refurbish also includes new boats, buildings and barns along the "shoreline" of our miniature watershed.

The sanding is a slow, dusty process. Working with the heavy, thick resin, which is the best resin for rough and tumble 'habitats', is a challenge as it tends to setup within fifteen minutes after it's mixed with the hardener.

A view of a section of the watershed
table that has been successfully restored.
Refurbishing and resealing the watershed table is one of the more challenging projects for Facilities Department staff, but it's well worth it when we walk by and see guests enjoying their little watershed once again.

Imagine if our real Lake Champlain watershed was that easy to refurbish! Actually it is. It just takes all of us doing our "One Drop"; that one thing we can do to help make the Lake a cleaner lake. For Facilities staff, our "One Drop" is to get out and remove snow before it gets packed down by guests and other pedestrians so we can clear our sidewalks without using de-icer. What's your "One Drop"?

Watch ECHO's "one drop" video.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What do you think Champ does in Lake Champlain?

One of my favorite things at ECHO is our celebration of the local lake-monster, Champ.  For two weeks at the end of February we celebrated all- things-Champ with ChampFEST and it was amazing!  

Though the scientific evidence suggesting the viability of a lake monster may be questionable, our program, Believer or Skeptic allowed our guests to explore the evidence we do
Lake-made Champ driftwood (c) ECHO G. Smart
have. We dived deep into the
unexplained through our talks on Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals, and we had the most famous photograph of Champ on display to the public for the first time ever! The photograph, taken in 1977 by Sandra Mansi, was available for public viewing during the final week of ChampFEST. We wanted our guests to examine this piece of evidence with their own eyes.

To me, the best part of ChampFEST is exploring more than the science. At ChampFEST we talked about history and culture in ways that are sometimes overlooked. Scientifically supported or not, Champ is a part of our lives here in the Champlain Basin in stories, sports, books and legend. Visitors shared their accounts and experiences with Champ with us every day. In fact, here is a video clip from the WCAX TV news featuring some of our guests and their interpretation of Champ!

A wall of Champ stories
This year we wanted a way to record what people thought about Champ so we set up giant post-it notes, markers and asked people “What do you think Champ does in Lake Champlain?” None of us expected the hundreds of responses or the diversity of their content. People of all ages drew pictures and wrote stories about what they thought Champ does. Some of the comments were thoughtful, some were solution based, some focused on lack evidence or proof of Champ’s existence. Some were just plain cute, suggesting that Champ spends his days playing and doing cannon balls into the lake.  We enjoyed the whimsical notes such as the one that suggested Champ spends his days catching dragonflies with his tongue. No matter the sentiment, we were all blown away by how much people had to say about Champ and we were amazed at the artistic talent and creativity guests shared with us. 

Close up of Champ "in action"

We're already all excited for next year’s ChampFEST! In the meantime, be sure to visit ECHO in August when we celebrate Champ's birthday week (August 6-observed) August 2 through 10th. 

I can’t wait to see what you'll share with us then!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Volunteer & Intern Appreciation Week 2014

ECHO's Volunteers, Interns and E-Team Members are at the heart of ECHO's Mission. Currently over one hundred of these hearty and giving individuals work to "educate and delight" ECHO visitors on a daily basis and we are so grateful.

Animal Care Volunteer

Ranging in ages from 16 to 86, they take care of our animals, explain our exhibits, keep our buildling clean, all while creating a welcoming and engaging space. Interns assist with information technology, marketing, development, exhibits, events and guest services. 

Teen Leadership Team (E-Team) 2014

Morning meeting with volunteers
ECHO's diverse group of volunteers and interns bring their energy, experience and feedback to enhance and support all we do.  On average, their work totals 1,200 hours a month and during peak summer season it can be as much as 1,800 hours a month. The many hours spent with our guests and behind the scenes are much appreciated.  

Monday's Education volunteers and interns
To honor this amazing group of people, ECHO devotes a week to our volunteer family to recognize their efforts. Its a time for delicoius homemade food in the volunteer lounge, ECHO-themed gifts, pats on the back at every turn, and special treats from our staff and guests. It is also an important time for all of us to reflect on the impact this collective group of people have on ECHO as an instituion and on our guests as they teach messages of stewardship and caring for the Lake Champlain Basin. 

Animal Care Volunteer 

We all thank you ECHO Volunteers, Interns, & E-Team members. 

You make every day great for ECHO staff and even greater for our wonderful guests!
Guests interact with E-Team Members
Do you want to volunteer, intern or become an E-Team member at ECHO? Check out the information here and submit and application. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Secrets Revealed - ChampFest 2014

Champ is the one mystical animal that doesn't care how cold it is. In fact, I suspect Champ loves all kinds of weather, even the chilly days of February. One of my favorite times of the year begins at ECHO on Saturday, February 15th and continues through Sunday, March 2nd as we celebrate Champ with ChampFest! Each year we set aside this time to explore the mystery of the local Lake Champlain lake-monster. 

On the hunt for Believers at an ECHO program
A lot of our visitors wonder about Champ. They want to know more and want to investigate scientific evidence that support the existence of such a creature. During ChampFest we dive in deep with a look at Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals, and look at other unexplained creatures.  

Do you already know what Champ looks like?  One of my favorite activities to observe is the variety of ways ECHO guests portray Champ. Our guests draw and create their own version of Champ during ChampFest and the variety of interpretations is astounding and create a fantastic gallery of images and sculptures.

Dressed up in Champ masks
And the Champ masks that guest make are terrific, especially when they are worn and become part of an impromptu Champ parade throughout ECHO. Even the ECHO staff comes out to participate…it is a hoot!

Champ allows us to tell the story of proper stewardship of Lake Champlain. Mythical or not, Champ is an exceptional gateway into the conservation thinking for even our youngest visitors. During Story Explorer time, we read books to our youngest guests (6 and younger) that introduce Champ and the lake environment where Champ lives.
Camouflaged Champ?

In 1977, the most famous photograph of Champ was taken by Sandra Mansi. Two years ago, she gifted the original photo to ECHO and we are honored to be the caretakers of it. This year, for the first time ever, everyone will have the opportunity to see the actual photo in a display at ECHO…just during ChampFest. We’ll also show the ECHO exclusive Champ film where Ms. Mansi tells the story of taking the photo and how it changed her life and brought the message of Lake stewardship to thousands upon thousands of people.

My favorite time is almost here! ChampFest…don’t miss it!

For more information about ChampFest visit or call ECHO 877-324-6386

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Head Start Baby Softshell Turtles at ECHO for the Winter

It seems like just a few weeks ago, we had remnants of summer weather in the Lake Champlain
Basin. Late hatching turtles still had a shot to head into the Lake and nearby rivers before cooler fall days
New arrivals: baby spiny softshell turtles. 
triggered the instinct to hibernate. Steve Parren, a rare species biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife in the Wildlife Diversity Program, a man with a passion for spiny softshell turtles, had been monitoring nest sites, incubating eggs, hatching out and releasing youngsters. But, he was running out of time and out of workable weather. It was too cold to release any more turtles. It was time to call ECHO. On October 16th, Steve delivered 14 baby spiny softshell turtles to ECHO for over-wintering. Though it is possible to induce hibernation in captive turtles, instead, these quarter-sized, cuties will be kept in 65-75F degree water, fed daily and given a “Head-Start” on life when they are released in June.

VIDEO: New arrivals explore their new home at ECHO.

With only two to three hundred adult spiny softshell turtles in Vermont, this shy, elusive species needs help. Our children and their children have a right to see these turtles when they’re adults. The spiny softshell turtle needs habitat protection and programs like Steve’s work by protecting nest sites and nestlings. ECHO’s support of the “Head Start” program, now in its seventh year, is important for the vulnerable babies that also need help from everyone who lives in or enjoys the Lake Champlain Basin.  Come see the babies while they’re here this winter at ECHO. See them up close and personal and learn what you can do to help them remain part of a balanced ecosystem for future generations to enjoy.

Links to media stories:

COOL MOVES Gets You Moving!

I was so excited when we unpacked our newest exhibit, "COOL MOVES: The Artistry of Motion," in September because this exhibit was all about motion and physics!

COOL MOVES highlights the active, dynamic, and fun physics of bodies-in-motion. This is one of the most dynamic traveling exhibits ECHO has hosted since I've been here - I've seen adults and children play in this exhibit for hours! When you visit this exhibit you'll see that the exhibits are moving and so are our guests!  In fact, the exhibit requires you to move, either to set things in motion or to make noises and patterns.

For example, the COOL MOVES exhibit has a Theremin. What is a Theramin? It's a musical instrument that you play, not by touching it, but by moving around it, near it, changing your proximity to it, but never physically coming in contact with it. Wave one hand and you can change the pitch of the instrument, move the other hand and raise or lower the volume. It uses radio frequencies and the proximity of the user to create sounds. Another fantastic aspect of COOL MOVES is the gyroscopic art station. Here, you can set two pendulum-like gyroscopes in motion and create one-of-a-kind works of art that you can take home or share on our art wall. I've witnessed people staying at this station for a long time.

One of my favorite components of Cool Moves is the Bernoulli table. I'll readily admit that I spend more time playing with moving air and various objects than the average adult, but it is hard to resist the excitement when you float a ball in mid-air by directing air, not up, but side-ways. Using the same principles that keep airplanes aloft, you direct air to keep small beach-balls floating.  Speaking of air, you have the opportunity to control mini-tornado too!  You determine the vortex of wind, whipping up a partially enclosed column speeds to see what kind of tornado you can make. You can even stick your hand to play in the whirlwind.

While the wind whips around outside and the temperatures drop, we invite you to come down to ECHO and warm up by moving around and exploring the amazing physics of motion and the artistry it creates!

COOL MOVES will be at ECHO through January 6!

Photos courtesy of Ecotarium.