If you grew up in Chilliwack, B.C., you might remember a time when people swam in Hope Slough. Before the 1980s, it was a popular place in the community to play, swim and fish.
Grade 6 students at Chilliwack Middle School, however, know the wetland as it is now. They know it as a place where the water is dirty and the ground is full of litter. They know it as a place where salmon used to thrive, but not anymore.
Nicole Choi, a Grade 6 teacher at Chilliwack Middle School, thought it was time her class led a clean-up. It would be a way for her students to strengthen their connection with the slough and encourage stewardship in the future.
“Many of my students live near the slough,” says Choi. “It’s part of the land they know well and it’s a point of connection for them.”
Getting their hands dirty
The day of the clean-up was bright and clear, and the students were excited. They split into pairs and quickly got to work picking up all the trash they could find.
“I was surprised at how much garbage we collected. There was so much!” says Haven, one of the students. “My friends and I collected three full bags.”
Most of the trash consisted of cigarette butts and empty coffee cups, but they also found books, pencils, tires, wrappers and other plastic and glass. One student found a box of needles that needed to be safely disposed of.
“A lot of the garbage we found was recent, it wasn’t damp,” says Olivia, a student. “That tells us that people are still polluting the slough every day.”
In total, the class spent close two hours cleaning up the wetland and collected more than 30 bags of garbage. They know how important wetlands are for local wildlife, and the class felt proud knowing that they made a difference.
“By cleaning up the slough, we’re helping save animals from toxins and keeping our water clean,” says James, a student.
“The health of Hope Slough affects the Fraser River, too,” adds Connor, another student. “Garbage and dirty water flows from here to the Fraser.”
Our wetlands matter
When our wetlands are healthy, everyone benefits. They remove pollutants from our air and water, and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Some wetlands, like Hope Slough, also have cultural value.
“Salmon that spawn and return to the Fraser Valley are culturally significant for the First Nations people that live here,” says Choi. “On top of the Hope Slough being important for wildlife, it’s also important for people.”
Since the clean-up, some of the Grade 6 students have been inspired to write letters to city officials. They’re asking Chilliwack councillors to fund restoration of Hope Slough. Others have signed up to volunteer with Friends of the Slough, a community group dedicated to revitalizing it.
Choi is proud of her students for taking the initiative. “This is part of what it means to be stewards of the land,” she says.
For their continued efforts to protect and restore Hope Slough, DUC is proud to the name the Grade 6 class from Chilliwack Middle School our newest Wetland Heroes.
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