For my third co-op, I’ve been interning with the Huron River Watershed Council in Ann Arbor, Michigan. More specifically, me and the other aquatic field interns have been doing “creekwalks“. Creekwalking is exactly what it sounds like: we trudge through various creeks and streams with waders on and take measurements. Water conductivity, stream width, stream depth, water temperature, and water speed are all measured, a couple of pictures are taken, and some general observations are recorded every time there is a noticeable difference in the stream. Every day, we go to a different site from the list of Adopt-a-Stream sites, where one team of three will go upstream and the other will go downstream. The goal is to end up with twelve recordings for each upstream and downstream section of the site, although sometimes the stream becomes impassable so we aren’t able to get twelve sets of measurements. We meet back at the main office, where we input all of the data collected and talk about the differences between the upstream and downstream experiences.
Most of the time, it’s a fairly easy job, and we get back to the office around 1:00. However, certain situations can make the job harder, more time consuming, and more exhausting. Most of the time, mud is to blame – in some creeks, most often those in wetland areas, there will be a layer of mud at the bottom of the creek. Sometimes it isn’t too bad and you only sink a few inches, but I’ve been up to my waist before. Pushing through all of that mud is incredibly exhausting and time consuming, and if it becomes too deep we usually end up heading back to do office work instead. However, these situations are often humorous a day or so after they occur.
The most recent experience that was unpleasant at the time but is now something me and the team laugh about was only two days ago on Thursday, August 4th. We were walking through Mill Creek, which was one of the wider, deeper creeks we’ve been to. It also had a very rocky bottom which sometimes made it hard to keep stable footing. We only had two measurement sets left when things began to go downhill – first, I ran into a huge spiderweb. While I appreciate the ecological importance of spiders, I’m still not their biggest fan. Due to my arachnophobia, I started thrashing around, trying to get the spiderweb off of me. Because of the rocky bottom, I quickly lost my balance and fell face first into the creek, which resulted in a bunch of water getting into my waders. One of my teammates started laughing (I was perfectly fine, just soaked) and ended up falling over himself. Miraculously, our third teammate managed to stay upright throughout the whole ordeal, even though he was laughing a lot as well. At that point, we decided to get out and walk to a road we saw earlier along the creek. In the end, this was a huge mistake. While rambling our way through the tall grass and fallen logs, I managed to step on a beehive. As soon as I realized what was happening I started walking faster and managed to only get stung once, in the neck. The teammate behind me, the one who managed to stay dry, wasn’t as lucky – he got stung five times. I’d never been stung before, so I had no idea whether or not I was allergic to bees. I quickly found out that I was allergic when I started recognizing the signs of an allergic reaction (I’ve had many before, unfortunately), so we hurried back to the car and I used my epipen. I was fine after the injection and my teammate’s swelling went down after about an hour. While it was obviously not fun at the time, it’s now a funny and interesting story to tell.
Even though the job can be exhausting at times, it has still been a great experience. The work we do will help the Huron River Watershed Council know where streams are having issues and I’ve met some great people along the way. Hopefully we can stay away from bee stings in the future!
Paul Steen | December 8, 2016
Happy to read this! Great story (although as the person responsible for your pain, I am sorry), but you did great work this summer and I thank you very much.