Seventh-grade Class Gets Canal Education

Local professional fisherman Russ Bailey addressed the students about the reduction in the fishing industry surrounding Grand Lake.
Staff Writer

On Wednesday, children from a Cincinnati-area middle school got a first-hand look at what they’ve been reading in their textbooks. 

Seventh graders from Glendale’s Bethany School traveled to the Grand Lake St. Marys area to have real-world experiences about the impacts of water quality on a community. Following a morning spent with Dr. Stephen Jacquemin at Wright State University — Lake Campus learning about the science behind algal blooms and how to solve them, the 23 students made the short trip to St. Marys to hear from business owners and city officials about the impact the blooms had on the city. 

“This is something we’ve been talking about in class this year and I thought it would be important for the kids to be able to come talk to the people who deal with algae on a daily basis,” said Dr. Michelle Mellea, the class’ science teacher. “Just this afternoon they’ve learned so much about the real world of what we read and studied and we projected what we thought the impacts were. 

“This was a great opportunity for us.”

In preparation for the field trip, students were presented with a fictional town that was suffering a severe algal bloom and they had to do research on the problem and hold simulated town hall meetings to outline their plans to fix the problem as well as address the issues the bloom caused to their town. Once the students made it to St. Marys, they got to hear from local business leaders and politicians about the impacts the algae has had on industry and community health.

Speaking first was Kendra Ferrall, owner of Wishing Well Massage, who discussed the damage done to her previous massage business and her parents’ marina. 

She told the kids that her business — currently located inside the Gathering Place — used to be out on state Route 703, near the lake. During the summer months, she said she remembered seeing so many boats out on the lake that there were none available for rent and her massage and health food shop was constantly full of out-of-town boaters.

“The summer months is when our regular business would slow down but there were so many people visiting the area that I would still be busy,” she said. “Once everything was out there about the lake, people were concerned about the environment of the area and they stopped coming into my shop. 

Ferrall added that she has noticed improvements in the lake and her hope is that the area will get back to the hustle and bustle that she remembered from her childhood and early adult life.

Turning attention more to the lake itself, local professional fisherman Russ Bailey addressed the students about the reduction in the fishing industry surrounding Grand Lake. He told the kids that there used to be several popular fishing tournaments held on the lake every year and that the fish population was struggling to keep up with the number of fish removed from the water.

After the algae became severe enough that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources closed the lake for a year, the tournaments left the area and fishing greatly decreased, even since the lake was re-opened.

“There is one bright spot in all of this though,” Bailey said. “Taking that time off allowed the fish to grow and get a lot bigger and more plentiful.”

Finally, the students heard from the leader of the city himself. Mayor Pat McGowan talked about the projects the city is working on to return the growth that left the city when the lake was struggling. 

“As mayor, I decided I was going to do something about the canal,” he said. 

Some of the movement McGowan noted includes a proposed treatment train separating the Miami-Erie Canal and Grand Lake St. Marys as it flows by St. Marys.

To make the information he was presenting more relatable to the students, he posed a question, asking if the kids knew why keeping the lake and canal healthy was so important. He explained that the water that comes from the Celina side of the lake eventually makes its way to the Ohio river.

“That’s where Cincinnati gets its drinking water,” McGowan added.