By Luke Goode
Editor’s note: Luke Goode is only 17, but he already knows what matters to him. After a lifetime spent playing in the stream in his back yard in Kentucky, he knew he wanted to teach others about water. Still in high school, Luke has taken the unusual step of getting certified to teach Project WET. He’s hoping to use his skills to study and restore streams like the ones he grew up playing in, and to share his love of water with others.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved to be near a stream or actually in it! My brother and I spent our early years exploring the creek that snaked its way through our back yard in Kentucky. We were homeschooled during our elementary years, and much of the science we studied was hands-on. My brother and I would run back to the house after recess with some new and exotic creature from the backyard or creek. We were encouraged to identify the creature and its habitat.
Around fourth or fifth grade, a gentleman at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife gave us beautifully illustrated posters of what kinds of critters we could expect to find in streams of various sizes in Kentucky. As soon as we caught something new in the creek, we would check the poster to see what it might be. One time, my brother said he had seen an otter. We thought he was telling a tall tale, but when we checked the poster, we found out that otters can live in Kentucky streams. Later, I saw the otter, too, and that confirmed our find.
I will never forget the day a dark blue color we hadn’t seen before appeared in the water of our backyard creek. My mother told us to stay out of the creek for a while because she didn’t know what had caused it. I remember worrying about what it would do to the wildlife in the creek. We later found out from a local water biologist that the color had most likely come from a solution that people put in ponds to kill algae. I also watched with concern after a recent drought meant that we saw fewer and fewer animals. Now that the drought has lessened, we’ve seen more frogs and other animals. In fact, we just caught a leopard frog the other day!
My introduction to Project WET actually began with bat poop. When I was about seven, I attended a nature talk given by “Wild Bill”—the name that Bill Gordon of High Adventures Wilderness School in Slade, Kentucky, uses when educating kids about nature. His hands-on approach and fascinating stories about nature in our own backyard intrigued me. (And I never forgot his description of how to tell if you have bats in an attic: sparkles from their poop!)
We joined Wild Bill a few years later for a couple of canoe trips on Elkhorn Creek, followed by rescuing an injured heron at our neighbor’s house. I had talked to Bill a couple of times about my interest in stream restoration as a career, and Bill told me about Project WET. This spring, he made arrangements for me to get certified to teach Project WET and to join him so that I could become familiar with what to look for in a healthy stream and to help him perform the finishing touches with restoring and mapping his own stream. Bill also wanted me to help me become more familiar with stream work and learn how to teach it for a stream study he is doing for middle and high school students.
When Wild Bill asked me to assist him mapping his stream and leading groups to help with that project, it fit perfectly with what I already loved. I am interested in stream study and restoration for my career because I love the outdoors: fishing, hunting, looking for things in streams like snakes, frogs, and turtles. I love water restoration because it makes the wildlife and people happy with the environment. Clean water equals healthy frogs, turtles, snakes, fish, deer, turkey and all other wildlife that lives in or drinks from that particular stream. I am delighted to be part of anything that improves or repairs habitat. Clean water also means farmers can use it more easily for watering crops or livestock. The main thing at the bottom of all of this from my perspective is that we all need to take care of what God has given and blessed us with.
As I look toward the future, I would love to teach stream study to younger people or even to those older than I am! I plan on getting practice teaching about streams and the way they work with Wild Bill at his stream, which is about an hour from where I live. Another attendee at Project WET certification partnered with our city’s division of water and asked if I’d join him and other volunteers performing water testing locally. I was excited to be asked and was able to participate this summer. Hopefully I will have more opportunities to share Project WET with future volunteers. Ultimately, as a career, I hope to help clean and restore streams while teaching others to do the same.
To learn more about Project WET in Kentucky, visit kaee.org.