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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!